Film: An Open Letter to Jack McConnell on the Demise of Scottish Screen

LIKE MOST bureaucracies, Scottish Screen is mostly unknown to the general public and generally unloved by the community it was established to serve. Why then, should anyone – inside or outside the film community – care about Scottish Screen’s demise as a film agency, prior to its expected total disappearance in the next year or so? Scottish Screen was established from several pre-existing agencies which supported film production, training, locations, archive, exhibition and education.

The idea was that this fragmented support be brought together into a single, dedicated and coherent agency which would deliver a film policy for the nation, for the film community and general public alike.

The idea on which Scottish Screen is based is sound: a single agency which straddles culture and industry, a classic one-stop-shop for all matters to do with film. However, uncertain management at executive and board levels, under-funding from the government, over-reliance on National Lottery money and political indifference (exacerbated by adverse publicity) meant that, in practice, the film policy was rarely convincingly articulated by Scottish Screen and, certainly, not delivered.

It has fallen victim to its own uncertainties. In addition, the Scottish Executive’s realignment to the cultural agenda resulted in questions being asked of the arts agencies. The Scottish Arts Council was seen to need a shake-up. Scottish Screen’s performance pointed, politically, to a neat, convenient and possibly cost-saving solution. A new organisation, Creative Scotland, will absorb most of the current functions of the Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council. It is expected that it will be operational by April 2008.

The rationale for placing film under the control of Creative Scotland is suspect and unproven. It is important to integrate cultural policy across various cultural forms, including film. It does not follow that it is necessary, or even wise, to attempt to integrate cultural operation.

The Scottish Screen board seem intent on a kind of pre-emptive institutional suicide: the new structure of Scottish Screen prepares it to slide smoothly into the imagined future represented by Creative Scotland. There is no clear sense of Scottish Screen’s desire to defend itself or the industry it is supposed to represent and support. The current chief executive inherited an organisation which required a thorough managerial re-assessment and a detailed re-structuring to make it fit for purpose. The consultation with the film community during that process has been woefully inadequate and, not surprisingly, the results are flawed.

The recent pronouncements from Scottish Screen are obituary notices masquerading as blogs for a bright new future. A fa

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