Sunday, 2 November 2008

Better Things by Duane Hopkins: where's it on, then?

I'm a keen fan of the young British writer-director Duane Hopkins, whose excellent debut feature Better Things was selected for the Critics' Week at this year's Cannes Festival. Hopkins is a true picture-maker, equally skilled in his use of sound and editing, with immaculate taste in filmic influences (Bresson, Alan Clarke, Bruno Dumont), and a clear commitment to taking the artistic hard road of trying to capture and illuminate our everyday lives (as evinced by his gift and facility for casting his pictures with non-professional performers: a familiar hallmark of a first-rate filmmaker.)
So I'm vexed - if not nearly so much as Hopkins' producers - by the difficulty that Better Things seems to be having in getting itself before audiences in this country. Specifically: the last I heard rumoured, the film was not even slated to play on general release in a London cinema, only getting a tour of the regional theatres. Well, lucky old regions, then - and there's no more sworn enemy of the tired old Metropolitan Bias than your correspondent. But a lot happens in London arts-wise, and a lot of movie fans live there, so I can't see why a British film that played with honour in Cannes, and was the deserved recipient of production funding from the public purse, can't then enjoy the benefit of a week's engagement in some enlightened picture-house somewhere in the capital.
This article in Screen International laments the market conditions and perceptions that have made the question of exhibition such a depressing quandary for Better Things. Samm Haillay, lead producer of the picture, gives good quote therein: 'It's not that my film deserves an audience, but its audience deserves to see it." The Screen writer doesn't propose any practical alternative to the presenting problem of how Better Things can 'aggregate' a 'customer base', simply citing some of the underlying causes that beset the film industry - the great crushing race toward the mainstream, the fruitless chasing of commercial bandwagons already gone by.
I know a few exhibitors, discerning souls film-wise for sure, and I can see their side of things - it doesn't feel like anybody gets to elude the bottom-line in the cultural industries these days. Nonetheless: cultural production in this country is the recipient of generous public funding, and, as far as I'm aware, part of that funding is intended so that the work produced is then served up before an audience. I don't see why that process has been failing Better Things. And since the British press are so keen to report on the presence (or absence) of British films in the Official Selection at Cannes (and they are), I assume they're unhappy too about the subsequent struggles of Better Things - so I trust we'll be reading plenty more on this matter.

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