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The Danes and after at BAFTA
London's equivalent to Hollywood's Academy is called-for short- BAFTA and it occupies luxurious premises on the historic Piccadilly street (not to be confused with the nearby Piccadilly Circus, which has nothing to do with P.T.Barnum) in the heart of the British capital. For many years it was considered a rather staid place and organisation, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, but in recent years after some interior revamping and probably thanks to some lively new personnel on the many committees that supervise its management, it has now become a worthy and far from dull rendez-vous for film professionals. There is a distinctive buzz in the bar, with its huge windows overlooking the Royal Academy and affording a good view of anyone who may be walking down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in his medieval hand.The modest restaurant space is regularly filled with producers from TV and cinema, pitching and bitching, and film-makers from abroad such as Menahem Golan or Kira Saxaganskaia are regular visitors.The B.A.F.T.A.,is a professional club for members with one the best screening rooms in London and naturally holds many private previews as well as seminars, and events of interest to wider audiences.Last year I attended a marvellous Master Class with the composer Michael Nyman who explained to critic Geoff Andrew how he has become something of a director himself and as rthe place is probably busy now with votings and screenings for the high-profile annual film awards (to be bestowed on 13th February 2011), a new series of Master Classes seem to have been temporarily relocated to the not-too-far away Institute of Contemporary Arts(best known locally as the ICA). This month the events in house included a fascinating panel entitled Is Something Rotten in the State of Children's Cinema? which filled the larger, comfier Princess Anne Theatre for much of Friday afternoon(on 21st January, 2011), and contrasted the vastly different policies and practices of making and showing films for children in Denmark and the UK.Capably chaired by the avuncular Justin Johnson (much-travelled Children's Programme for the BFI, and often a juror at specialist festivals),it brought from Denmark, Charlotte Giese, in charge of the relevant unit inside the Danish Film Institute,who clearly outlined how flourishing films with and about and 'for' children are on commercial release in Denmark as well as at international festivals;Rasmus Horskjaer, who probably made the funniest speech I have ever heard from a film commissioner;and Charlotte Sachs Bostrup, an actress who now enjoys a successful career as a director of features for children.The British panel was no less high-flying- Lizzie Francke, a former director of the Edinburgh Film Festival and latterly a fund leader at the moribund UK Film Council; Cameron McCracken, who graduated from Balliol to head Pathe, one of the UK's livelier film distributors,Tom Harper, whose debut feature as director was The Scouting Book for Boys, and the script-writer Rhidian Brook, whose credits include Africa United.
The contrast between the situation of film-making for children in Britain and Denmark could not be vaster. In a year where home-grown films enjoy some thirty-three percent of cinema admissions (such as in 2008) about half of those Danish films are for children, and impressive clips were screened of such recent features as The Substitute and Terkel in Trouble.Justin Johnson emphasised that in this country many films aimed at or for children, in the sense that they have young protagonists, often receive censorship certificates such as (12), (15) or even (18) due to outspoken language, whereas Danes seem to take that in their stride, and several recent British releases of that ilk were in fact circulated through Danish schools. Lizzie Francke pointed out how pitifully few submissions have been received for funding from British producers aiming filmings at younger audiences.In Britain, most films "for children" are rather family films, made in Hollywood, and released on school holiday dates.In the lively open discussion, a vestige of the UK Children's Film Foundation (where 40 years or so ago several of today's screen stars first went before the cameras in features and serials screened on Saturday mornings in cinemas up and down the British Isles) announced that the body was being revamped and would soon be active in new ways, while the cinema programmer of the Barbican Arts Centre urged the audience to formulate a statement encouraging future film funding bodies in Britain to divert monies in such a way as to encourage our producers to want to make films for younger British audiences.It was clear how much more collaborative film artistes seem to be in Copenhagen than in London,and discussion followed animatedly over wines in the bar, sponsored I suspect by the Danish Embassy.Certainly, the Danish Film Institute should be congratulated for helping to open up the topic at BAFTA, for without younger audiences today, what will become of film-going audiences tomorrow?
For details of ongoing events, previews, and master classes, see www.bafta.org
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