Should school children be encouraged to spend more time watching films?
It may not be as active as kicking a ball about in the park or training for a 10K run, but the new £500,000 initiative backed by the British Film Institute to set up film clubs in schools across Scotland ought to be widely welcomed. It will help ensure that cinema and its importance as an art form in most young people's lives is given due recognition at last.
It would be unthinkable for great novels to be excluded from the English curriculum, but stories told on screen, both large and small, have suffered somewhat in years gone by from snobbish attitudes. It is high time the last vestiges of such views were swept away. Teaching children to deconstruct films and giving them an appreciation of the great movies will ensure they enjoy films on a deeper level for the rest of their lives, but this initiative does something more: it recognises the unique power of screen-based storytelling in helping audiences connect with social and political issues. Film can be transformative and ought to be celebrated for it.
The importance of film in Scotland has not just been overlooked in schools. A failure over many years to establish a state-of-the-art sound stage in Scotland to attract international filmmakers has resulted in the loss of millions in potential revenues as crews who might otherwise be drawn to Scotland's ravishing landscape and stay on afterwards to complete their film, head instead to eastern Europe or Northern Ireland. A £42 million four-year plan by Northern Ireland aimed at making it the biggest film centre in the UK outside London within 10 years, announced earlier this month, and the fact that Pinewood Studios decided in February to invest in a new studio in Cardiff instead of Scotland, underlines the extent of this missed opportunity by successive Scottish ministers and officials.
Plans are only now belatedly afoot to create a film studio in Scotland, mostly with private money. Its economic benefit could be between £51m and nearly £100m over 15 years, with both high-end television and film being made there. Creative Scotland is due to produce a strategy on film by June but has already proposed that a screen-focused public film unit be set up within Creative Scotland to champion the industry, following the loss in 2010 of Scottish Screen. These are all encouraging developments but there is no time to lose given that the Scottish film sector has fallen behind that of other European countries.
The new film clubs for schoolchildren can only help, by inspiring young creatives to become a new homegrown generation of actors, directors, producers, lighting and sound technicians and special effects wizards. The all-pervasive influence of Hollywood on cinema-going audiences in the UK and indeed across the world is so great that many school leavers currently overlook the possibility of a career in film in Scotland, but if filmmaking as a whole receives the support it deserves in Scotland in the coming years, that could change. Having a school system that turns out film-literate children can only help fuel its expansion.
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