Clare Stewart is director of the BFI’s 56th London Film Festival. She grew up in South Gippsland, Australia, before acquiring a passion for film and volunteering at the Melbourne Cinematheque. She went on to direct the Sydney Film Festival for five years and now broadcasts and lectures on the subject of film. Here she reveals what she would do if she ruled the world.
I’d build a big screen in every community across the globe.
And produce a year-round film programme that distributed all kinds of movies to entertain and challenge everyone. I believe we should all have access to great cinema, that films have the power to expand our knowledge and imagination, and that they make us see, think, and feel differently about the world. I grew up in a small country town in Australia without a cinema, and i’ve been overcompensating ever since! Film spreads empathy like a salve on our crazy, aching world. I know that with the thousands of movies I’ve watched as a festival director, my knowledge of the globe has expanded.
I’d make sure everyone had access to a computer.
The dream of a film programme distributed everywhere might sound achievable, since technology has enabled far greater access to video on demand. But actually, it’s still a relatively low proportion of the global population who have regular access to the internet (about 33%). So the first enabling thought—that you would deliver the movie schedule via the web—isn’t yet possible everywhere in the world. I’d invent a media consumption tax so that people from cultures who have good access to content would pay a stipend for it. the revenue would be reinvested in better communications infrastructure for poor communities (although, if I was paying tax on every film I watched, I might cut back on my 800-plus per year!). But telephone-usage charges were originally introduced to stop women gossiping as they were “frivolously” occupying lines that prevented important men’s business from going ahead. so, while I like the tax idea in theory, I’d need to be cautious that I wasn’t discouraging playfulness, which is what leads to creativity.
I’d show every five-year-old a Buster Keaton film.
Keaton’s filmmaking and performances are full of play, and that’s infectious; kids love it. This would be a cunning strategy to make everyone value silent cinema of all kinds from an early age. I remember my first film on the big screen: Hanna-Barbera’s 1973 picture Charlotte’s Web. What made a lasting impression on me—more so even than the film itself—was that it made me cry. As a kid, that was my first moment of understanding that you could create something with strong, emotive impact that could really shake people up. I hope there will be children at the London Film Festival’s showing of the beautiful animation Ernest and Celestine who have the same experience as five-year-old me.
I’d abolish government intervention over what stories can be told.
Even if you could overcome the infrastructure limitations, build cinemas everywhere and technically disseminate films, there would also be lots of cultural and political issues to work around, since some countries are still very controlling about what they let their citizens make and watch. For example, Wadjda is a miraculous movie, screening as part of our first feature competition. It was shot on location in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas have been banned for over 30 years; and it was directed by a woman (who presumably couldn’t even drive herself to the set, since women are banned from operating vehicles).
I’d ensure all new cinemas were fitted with sensor taps and get rid of cheesy carpet.
I can’t stand water wastage— it’s grim and unnecessary. I’m constantly shocked by the fact that water fixtures here in the UK haven’t been overhauled to comply with sound ecological practice. I’d have good green architecture in all my new cinemas. it’d also be essential to liberate people from the nasty, over-patterned multiplex carpet that’s probably designed to ensure subliminally you buy more at the concession stand, and is certainly not the desirable visual precursor to the moviegoing experience!
The full article appears in October issue of Reader’s Digest, in shops now.