Artists cast as saviours of British cinema
First came Turner prize-winner Steve McQueen's gritty film Hunger, about the IRA prisoner Bobby Sands. Full of soul-searching and menace, it was the toast of the Cannes film festival last year. Next came the success this autumn of Nowhere Boy, artist Sam Taylor-Wood's uplifting biopic of the young John Lennon.
Now, following these unexpected triumphs, a queue of former young British artists, or YBAs, has formed, waiting to entertain the nation's cinema audiences. Among the aspiring directors are the controversial artists Jake and Dinos Chapman and the Turner prize-winner Gillian Wearing.
This week, in recognition of this line-up of potential talent, the homegrown cinema industry has announced that it is to start banking on the trend. The UK Film Council is to promote more work from first-time feature film directors who are already established names in London art galleries.
"This is a really important area now, and I think it is where we are going to see a lot of the most interesting new films coming from," said Tim Bevan, chairman of the Film Council and the producer behind the hit films Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. "We are working with several artists who are making their first full-length features."
This month the Film Council unveiled its new slimline structure, but it has safeguarded a £15m fund aimed at helping this sort of aspiring film-maker. Wearing, who won the Turner prize in 1997, is already on the council's books. The artist has co-written the script for her debut feature, Self-Made, with the playwright Leo Butler. Funded jointly with Arts Council England, it will follow 12 people who uncover new sides of their personalities during an acting workshop.
Artist Clio Barnard is working on a documentary funded by the council. It centres on the Buttershaw Estate in south Bradford and is due to be finished next year. The estate is the setting for much of playwright Andrea Dunbar's work and for Alan Clarke's 1987 film adaptation, Rita, Sue and Bob Too! Barnard's film will chronicle the past 30 years and the effects of poverty and media images on people who live there.
The Chapmans, known for disturbing works featuring dismembered corpses and Nazi insignia, are well advanced on their debut feature, being made in collaboration with Channel 4. Described variously as a comedy and a horror film, it is believed to be set in the art world and to have a heavy satirical edge.
Previous generations of leading British film-makers, such as Ridley Scott and Alan Parker, made the switch to feature films from the world of advertising. During the 1990s the YBAs' interest in new media and in moving images created a similar path for them into the world of mainstream cinema.
The birth of the new trend was marked at the moment in May 2008 when Taylor-Wood and McQueen bumped into each other on the red carpet at the Cannes film festival in the south of France. McQueen was about to receive the prestigious Caméra d'Or award from Dennis Hopper for Hunger while Taylor-Wood was in line for a Palme d'Or for best short film for her teenage romance Love You More, scripted by Patrick Marber and based on a Julie Myerson story.
Some suggest it is the collapse of the art market that has prompted some leading artists to make the transition to cinema. Whatever the reason, it is a popular move. Three years ago the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon charmed critics at Cannes with his football film Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait. Tracey Emin and the Turner prize winners Damien Hirst and Wolfgang Tillmans have all also made short films.
The Film Council's chief executive, John Woodward, said the new Film Production Fund, designed to champion the highest quality talent, is the best way of balancing out an increasingly nervous marketplace. Woodward and his chairman, Bevan, both believe that funding new and second-time film-makers, some from other creative areas, is the best way to stop the British film industry becoming risk-averse.
Steve McQueen's Hunger is due to be screened by Channel 4 on 15 December. Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy is released in cinemas on Boxing Day.Source: Guardian Online