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The art of Randy Thom

 Sound designer (FW35)

Independence in the face of adversity
London Film Festival 2003’s New British Cinema strand speaks volumes about both the state of affairs within our industry and the nature of independent filmmaking today, as Matt Showering explains.
When the 47th BFI London Film Festival was underway, film critic Daniel Rosenthal of The Times - the Festival’s new title sponsor - lamented the seemingly permanent state of affairs plaguing British cinema: “Week in, week out, formulaic American tosh clogs our multiplexes, while intelligent British movies struggle to gross 1 million - a figure that would just scrape them a place in the top 100 for the year.”1 Clichd though it may seem, in such troubled times critics and audiences (or at least those who refuse to content themselves with ‘American tosh’) will inevitably look to our cinema’s new blood in the hope of ultimate salvation; and the Festival’s New British Cinema strand, characterised by feature debuts and with each feature preceded by a short, will be unanimously regarded as the best domestic showcase for burgeoning home-grown talent. However, before we provoke feelings of dja-vu by falling into the old trap characterised by screenwriter Colin Welland’s legendary declaration (upon winning an Oscar for Chariots of Fire2), “The British are Coming!”, we would be most rewarded not immediately to rethink our position as challengers to the Hollywood establishment, but first to examine the true meaning of independence in the cinema.
In the post-modern world of the early twenty-first century, an age in which American ‘independent’ film company Miramax (long under the ownership of Walt Disney Studios) stands as the most sophisticated hype-machine in Tinseltown, raking in Oscars year after year, the traditional picture of independent companies functioning outside the contemporary studio system is growing increasingly blurred. In Britain, meanwhile, with the supposed ‘glory days’ of Ealing, Rank and Gainsborough a distant memory, the distinct lack of a studio system brings a temptation to categorically define all British films as independent. A comprehensive approach to this issue is made by Australian scholar Brian McFarlane:
“It is possible to recognise three versions of independence which have been present in some form when claims to independent status have been made. The first version values economic freedom. The central preoccupation is with finding financial support from sources outside the established film industry. The second values political freedom. It looks for the possibility of expressing oppositional (almost exclusively left-wing) political views. The third values aesthetic freedom. It gives priority to developing innovative forms of cinematic expression. All three versions are usually present, though in different proportions, whenever filmmakers have claimed to be independent.”