Michael, most anyone with any genuine interest in British art cinema had serious issues with the UK Film Council from the word go, including many award recipients, whether they would come out openly and say so or not (unlike, say, Chris Atkins, many in the industry have of course been afraid of burning bridges, or, like Mike Leigh, despite earlier criticism, felt they owed the organisation too much personally to criticise in later years) - your magazine has even printed some negative opinions itself, however not until the organization was on its last legs and the BFI was positioning itself for a piece of the pie (this timing itself should tell you something...).
This is all perfectly fair comment, but it doesn't remotely address your contention that Sight & Sound
explicitly orders its contributors to big up the UKFC. Obviously, I can't speak for anyone else, but they've certainly never done this to me - and I'd be gobsmacked if they ever did.
Incidentally, you may be interested to know that between late 2008 and when I left at the end of March 2011 I was actually banned from reviewing BFI releases in Sight & Sound
, on the grounds that my status as a salaried BFI employee and regular contributor to BFI releases might be seen to compromise my independence, even if I had nothing to do with the title in question. I know of at least one other person similarly affected (presumably to this day, as he's still there), and there may well have been more.
There was a very telling interview with one of the Fund head honchos a year or two ago where his defense in response to a negative piece was basically "Nick, what you SHOULD be writing about is this..." - ie. a sense of shock and a hurt belief that fault lay not with his organisation but with S&S for running the negative criticism in the first place, for not holding up their end of a tacit deal that had been in place for the best part of a decade, an agreement that can no doubt be rationalised, consciously or subconsciously, as a national duty to promote our 'British national cinema' (in fact the institutional definition thereof, which is a very different thing).
In other words, contrary to your original allegation, Sight & Sound does
run negative pieces about the UKFC, they get miffed about it and try a PR charm offensive. All of which is perfectly normal behaviour on their part - but I don't see how this comes anywhere close to supporting your allegation.
Nb. Whilst the circumstantial evidence for editorial complicity is compelling, I've also had info from quite a few inside sources at the BFI over the years, although obviously we can't go into that in any detail as this incident
As it happens, I think that incident (all of whose parties I know very well indeed) was badly mishandled - but it was an internal BFI matter that had nothing to do with the UKFC.
Anyway, my original point being that I've rarely if ever seen you take any interest in light multiplex genre entertainment (the American-produced, British-directed Unstoppable - which you predictably haven't seen - being a good example of such), let alone mention such a film in the same sentence as uncompromising and internationally recognised arthouse fare like Le Quattro Volte and Essential KIlling (!),
But surely the fact that I don't normally review multiplex genre entertainment and have a strong bias towards arthouse fare makes a nonsense of your suggestion that I was asked to do it because I'd be more likely to react positively? The reviews editor knows my feelings about British genre films, particularly genre spoofs crammed with nudge-nudge film references - I ripped Doomsday
to shreds and took advantage of my Attack the Block
piece to have a swipe at the overrated Shaun of the Dead
and Hot Fuzz
. He hadn't seen the film at the time of commissioning my piece, and on paper it looked pretty dreadful. So if he was required by his own higher-ups to deliver a positive review, he was taking a gamble, as the chances of me disliking it must have been pretty high.
Mind you, I suppose he could always have spiked my piece and commissioned somebody else - but that's never happened to me before, and I've written plenty of negative reviews of British films. (I can't recall how many were UKFC-backed, as it's not an issue that particularly concerns me when reviewing individual films).
so I'm just interested in what makes Attack the Block - which also just happens to be one of the year's biggest releases from two of the UK's three major national funding bodies - so very exceptional... I say this also because I'm expecting you won't be the only UK journalist to make this exception come list-making season (shall we place a bet on it being the only pure genre title in the S&S Top 10?
I think you're making the mistake of assuming that because I gave Attack the Block
a good review and that it currently sits on my work-in-progress 2011 Top Ten list, I think it's some kind of epoch-defining masterpiece. In actual fact, I've seen maybe 25 new releases this year (for various domestic and professional reasons, the overwhelming majority of what I watch is considerably older), and while I'd absolutely defend its inclusion right now, if I was lucky enough to see eight more films as good as Essential Killing
and Le quattro volte
it might struggle. But it certainly deserves its critical and popular acclaim - in fact, if babysitting issues hadn't conspired against me, I was only too willing to pay to see it a second time when it opened theatrically, which is something I hardly ever do.
Sadly, I'm going to have to bow out of this for the rest of the day, as I'm combining strike-enforced childcare with meeting multiple Sight & Sound
deadlines. Come to think of it, my job would be infinitely easier if they really did dictate in advance what editorial line to take...