In a rare public speaking engagement, BBC Films director Rose Garnett took to the stage at the Zurich Film Festival yesterday (September 28) to discuss how the organization has changed under her tenure, and how the nature of public service broadcasting is evolving.
BBC Films remains a stalwart of the UK business and in recent years has backed movies including Judy Garland biopic Judy (pictured), LFF 2018 closer Stan & Ollie, Joanna Hoggs critical hit The Souvenir and Palme dOr winner I, Daniel Blake. Under Garnetts tenure the funder — long seen as a more conservative operation than fellow UK broadcaster Film4 — has started to move in a bolder direction.
“When I moved to the BBC we reinvigorated the team, the slate, and our mission,” Garnett explained. “It was about going back to the heart of public service – how could we help build a landscape with new voices and possibilities? How could we bring stories that people didnt know they wanted into the mainstream? How could we invite a generation of filmmakers who didnt feel like they had a place at the table to come and tell their stories?”
She continued, “It was about making films that the market doesnt necessarily know they want yet, and building a generation of filmmakers who will make films that become part of our communal conversation.”
“Myself and the team also ask why a film deserves licence fee payers money. If we can answer that question, then we do it. If we cant answer it, particularly if the film is going to be made somewhere else, then you just celebrate the fact that the work is being made.”
Garnett, who joined the BBC in 2017 from Film4, explained that the role of public service broadcasters [PSBs] such as the BBC has “changed massively” in recent years.
“The BBC in the UK used to be the only show in town, it could do what it wanted, on its terms. Now its not. Part of being a public service broadcaster is about really knowing what your mission is, and reinventing what you do for the next generation – why do they need us and why should they pay for us? Thats a question that we ask ourselves all the time.
“PSBs are important because of our relationship to risk. We sort of have no skin in the game apart from enabling people and their work, we get good value for money but we dont have to make a profit. That gives us an incredible freedom and permission [to help] filmmakers find their voice.”
Garnett and her team – which she claimed now better reflects UK diversity levels – have put a significant emphasis on unearthing new voices. One good recent example is Rapman (real name Andrew Onwubolu), the Youtube star director behind online series sensation Shiros Story, whose feature directing debut Blue Story was backed by BBC Films and is set to be released in the UK by Paramount next month.
“My kids saw Rapman. We instant messaged him. But it wasnt because we wanted to be down with the kids – we watched Shiros Story and it was proper filmmaking. He came in two days later and said, I never thought Id be walking into the BBC.”
Garnett has encountered some local criticism for backing the next film from American filmmaker Eliza Hittman, Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always, because the feature had no pre-existing British connection. The BBC executive defended the decision.
“In the film division we do occasionally work with talent that isnt UK and isnt telling UK stories. Its unusual for us but its exciting when it happens. Elizas film began as a conversation in London about abortion rights in Ireland, because the referendum was coming up, but when the referendum legalised abortion in Ireland, the logical thing was to migrate that story to the U.S., where those rights are under attack. It is very American and I couldnt be prouder to be part of it.”
BBC Films has also been putting more resource behind the English-language debuts of European filmmakers.
“We like being a stepping stone for European directors to make their first EnglisRead More – Source