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May 27, 2008
Unseen Europe Hub Page
Introduction: Europe as a Cultural Project
My courses and research projects in general have been to explore developments in European cinema in the five main industrial countries of Europe in the 20th and now 21st centuries. These countries are Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia. This project is based upon a SPECT approach (Social / Political / Economic / Cultural / Textual). This project is of necessity open ended but it is envisaged as part of a necessary cultural project in the interests of developing notions of cultural citizenship and aspects of representation which go far beyond the limitations of instrumentalised commercialism.
This approach excludes a rich and diverse cinematic heritage which extends from Iceland to Poland via Sweden, Finland and Estonia and through Denmark, Holland and Belgium. I have therefore decided to slowly develop what I'm describing as 'The Unseen Europe' as films from smaller countries have severe difficulties in gaining the audience they often deserve.
The European Union is now 26 countries and 26 rich cultural heritages which overlap and inform each other historically. At this time when the sense of direction of what Europe actually is and what it might become is uncertain - because of the rejection by the voters in France and Holland of closer constitutional ties - it is important to prioritise the cultural aspects of these diverse 'nations'.
This cinema is not a cinema concerned primarily with stars and the paraphernalia of commercialism. It is more of an 'art' cinema in the sense of those involved following their individual projects often with the director linked to the production crews and scriptwriters. This is an auteur cinema which people should be proud of. It is a powerful visual heritage which is likely to be remembered and revisted by many in the fullness of time. It is a cinema which will gradually become canonical. These are sentiments and visions which go beyond the 'postmodern' in the sense that one isn't judgemental about the content or targeted audience of a media text. This is to say the content of texts is important and not always easy to deal with. It can make audiences uncomfortable and is frequently challenging in many different ways.
Europe will not become a coherent entity unless it develops a culture which develops both an overarching pan-Europeanism and at the same time is celebratory of difference. This is a tall order and there is no historical precedent for this for the senses of nationhood and national identity are often deeply embedded. At the same time there is a desire for something greater which goes beyond Europe's history of repressive empires all of which came tumbling down either during or in the aftermath of the European 30 years war of the 20th century. The mayhem and carnage following the breakup of Yugoslavia is a salutary lesson about the primacy of the cultural within identity politics.
The importance of Europe as a cultural project rather than a political and economic convenience cannot be overstated if Europe is to become something other than a simple confederation of mainly economically linked countries with regulatory directives to control the worst excesses of capitalism.
In Britain at least, it is very hard to see a good range of films which represent aspects of British life leave alone 'sub-titled' films which deal with historical and national themes which are probably unfamiliar, yet cinema is a great way to learn about and share cultural experiences. Currently DVDs and the occasional TV film are one of the few ways a British audience can learn about other aspects of European culture. Usefully in the UK the government is exerting pressure on TV companies like the BBC to spend more of its film budget on non-Hollywood films although the pressure is on to spend it on british films.
For these reasons it is intended that this blog will gradually develop this page providing resource links relating to directors and national cinemas outside of the 'Big Five'. The first posting has been a resources page on the work of Theo Angelopoulos the celebrated Greek director.
Why Angelopoulos? Well this probably has something to do with spending some time over the last two summers in the Greek Islands. There is a surprise serendiptious memory of our 2006 trip to Koufanissia. On our return ferry jouney a woman and her 9 year old daughter sat next to us. She was a solicitor from Cyprus who had trained in the UK and was a member of the film club in Nicosia. We had a fine discussion about European cinema and the experience was a reminder of the cultural homogeneities which link the countries of Europe in surprising ways as we celebrated the excellent film making of Kieslowski for example. Cultural differences between Greece and Britain, indeed Northern Europe are fascinating yet Europe looks to the Greek city states as the Political and cultural crucible of contemporary Europe.
This is a developing page which will eventually provide links to a wide range of National and European-wide film institutions
Being a small country physically and in population it is of course very hard to develop a thriving film industry because it is such an industrial process which frequently demands high budgets to pay known stars and have a large budget. Even the art-house circuit in the UK at least is increasingly constrained by commercial imperatives (financial targets) rather than cultural benefits which are often unquantifiable. In the middle of the 1990s following near financial collapse in the transitional period from Soviet rule Lithuania could not even afford to make a single film from its cultural budget despite the EU being prepared to underwrite 50% of the costs. However when one visited a museum in those times not only was there a charge (relatively little for a foreigner in terms of real income) but somebody would follow you around turning the lights off and on to save power.
Bradford Film Festival showed several new Lithuanian films in 2005. This programme of Lithuanian films was a first, not just in the UK but also outside of Lithuania. The festival was part of a whole cultural exchange project Visions of Yorskhire and Vilnius.
Lithuania Sociology Magazine Sociumas examines the prospects for Lithuanian cinema.