Compared to other UK and Irish cities, Belfast lags behind in film culture. Yes it has its high profile production successes and a skilled audiovisual work force, but it has just one, not very adequate, arts cinema. Its citizens go to the movies in relatively large numbers, but the films they see are less diverse than in many other UK and Irish cities that are better served by quality cinemas.
This is why the Belfast Film Festival is vital to the city’s culture. For years now it has been doing community screenings, outreach and sector support work to increase diversity and plurality in the city. It has enriched lives, broadened awareness and opened minds. Cinema is an empathy machine; it lets us see into other people’s hearts, minds and lives. It combats racism, helps us understand social class and religious difference, and challenges prejudice about gender and sexuality. God knows, Belfast needs all these things.
If one of the key aims of our times is more openness diversity, more enlightenment, then the money spent on the Belfast Film Festival is very well spent indeed. If, in addition, we want more great filmmakers to emerge from Northern Ireland, then it is crucial – really crucial – to keep showing a broad range of films.
The Belfast Film Festival is a bulwark against bigotry, a talent incubator, a mechanism for social cohesion and source of civic joy and pride. I am shocked to hear of the proposed cuts to its already relatively small budget. They will damage the understanding of film in the city, make us all less cine-literate, and make us less able to generate new talent – talent which, in return, fuels the sector.
In order to save a relatively small amount of money in the short term, are we ready to sacrifice the future growth, maturity, creativity and diversity of film in Northern Ireland?
We know that these are hard times, but I sincerely ask those who are proposing the cuts to reconsider.