Among the more interesting films of the Cannes festival this year is a film essay by Anne-Marie Mieville and Jean Luc Godard called The Old Place. By all accounts it is a beautiful and intriguing meditation on the relations between painting and film. But for one of the executive producers, Colin MacCabe, this honour is also a cause of national shame
MacCabe, who produced film and television for the British Film Institute (BFI) from l985 to 1998, is still spitting blood over the decision by the BFI to totally wash its hands of this culture-spanning project. That withdrawal came after New Labour was elected to power in the UK, he says, and then implanted Alan Parker as the new Chairman of the Institute,
By pulling out, Parker immediately ended MacCabe's dreams of joining the BFI and New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in a collaboration from which MacCabe believes further joint artistic and educational ventures would have sprung. While MOMA's Mary Lea Bandy retained MacCabe as the other executive producer on the film, the BFI's name is nowhere to be seen on the final print.
"They ordered me to remove the BFI from the project even though it would have been fully financed from outside sources. Canceling their involvement in a Mieville/Godard film is a symptom of the fact they no longer cared about film history. They wanted nothing to do with values that weren't reducible to tomorrow's box office," says MacCabe.
"Mary Lea and I had this idiotic fantasy that we could re-unite the BFI and MOMA, the same two institutions that met with Henry Langlois at Paris' Hotel Crillon back in 1938 and created FIAF (the international association of film archives). But the notion of trying to think about the cinema just did not fit into Parker's anti-elitist agenda.
"But Parker was just an errand boy for New Labour. The real aim higher up was to shut down the BFI as an autonomous thinking institution. This national disgrace would have been unthinkable under Richard Attenborough or Jeremy Thomas, both great filmmakers who chaired the Institute. The BFI was once at the epicentre of thinking about cinema on an international level. Now we as a nation look like creeps."
This is not the first time that the outspoken MacCabe has gone public with his distaste for the direction that the BFI, and its new overlords at the UK's Film Council, has taken in recent years.
A diatribe published in Screen International during last year's Cannes Film Festival described the BFI as a "once-vibrant and educational body that is now no more than a mere cipher of an increasingly Philistine state."
Contacted here for a response, the UK Film Council - to which the BFI now reports - has refused to comment. Nor does MacCabe buy into the argument that a more overtly market-driven approach to public film financing support has long-terms pay-offs at the box office.
He points out that among the new filmmakers whose short films he backed while at the BFI was Gurinda Chadha - the same director responsible for current UK box office smash Bend It Like Beckham. "The thing I don't see at all is where will the new talent these days come through in Britain, especially as DV hasn't yet proved to be the great saviour that I, and others, thought it might be.
"What is truly scandalous and disgusting about the current production set-up is that the salaries being paid to executives prohibit work with young talent and dedicated crews. I could find people just as talented at a third of a price and then they might be able to inspire and enthuse people. But this is a problem that goes right to Blair at the heart of government. Our first karaoke prime minister knows only one tune: Buy them off."
Colin MacCabe's latest Minerva production is Isaac Julien's Baadasssss Cinema which will screen on the Independent Film Channel in August