Film, Venue

Don’t Scare Us With Your Covid Dramas

In the world of corporate enterprise, problems normally arise when demand lessens and spending tightens. And yet for the film industry, the problem is rather the opposite. Lockdown has created more space in our days to binge watch high end films and television shows. With restrictions on socialising, many of us have more time on our hands. 

An article in The Guardian by Media editor, Jim Waterson, suggests shortages in trained crew members and the kit they require has become a norm – with the biggest streaming services, Amazon and Netflix taking the lion’s share. Besides the economic impact of Covid-19, high demand for film has presented fresh challenges for an industry already struggling at an unpredictable and restricted time.

In the UK, the forecast isn’t so gloomy. A £500m scheme to jumpstart the UK’s struggling film and television industries was promised by the government, covering the whole of the UK. Combine that with generous tax credits, and the UK is quite clearly the place to be and be seen. Covid-19’s impact has been enormous, with filming delayed and cinemas severely damaged by lacklustre sales. But when we talk about impact, considerations over the potential impact on the types of films produced tends to come in second place. 

Directed by Adam Mason, Songbird tells the story of a courier on a mission to save the woman he loves from a quarantine camp. Stephen Daldry directed the BBC drama, Together, filmed in ten days and telling the story of a relationship put to the test by the perils of lockdown. Many are calling it one of the most realistic accounts of what life has become since Covid-19 first entered our lives. It might well be the case that many more films are yet to come with explicit mention of the devastation caused by the pandemic. 

Appetites don’t budge. During the Spanish Flu, only a small handful of films were made which paid homage to the irregularities of the time. More than 100 years later, experts still doubt a resurgence in popularity for infection-related movies. As a result, Liam Neeson’s newest role in The Ice Road as an ice rider in a remote part of Canada will still be a hit. So will James Bond. Old classics such as Contagion have been viewed many more times since the coronavirus struck, but time will tell if, in its place, filmmakers remake the classics with a contemporary twist. Many believe they will, eventually. According to the cultural historian, Thomas Doherty, “what you need for good pandemic-driven motion picture entertainment is panic in the streets, cartloads of corpses and really grisly symptoms…there’ll be a cultural lag of a few years on either option.”

So you’ll have to wait. In the meantime, new releases are hitting the screen. None are directly related to Covid-19, but matter for a different reason. Coronavirus is everywhere we look. It’s in the news we watch, the air we breathe, the hospitals we need. When slouching on the sofa in front of the TV, we want to be entertained in a fictional land, not told about a very real disaster. We want to be on the edge of our seats, not lectured in a story that feels uncannily familiar to the present time. We want to escape, not be reminded. No wonder the most prolific films of 2021 bear little allegiance to the onset of social distancing and fears of infection. The same can be said of last year’s blockbusters. 

Truth be told, the close relation between a film and its contemporary reality is often accidentally evoked. This is because, quite simply, the best filmmakers don’t tell, they show. Instead of an apocalyptic and disease ridden universe, they create a world where people are more distant, in which relationships and livelihoods are reduced to rubble and, as a result, emotions run high. The best films are implicit, not explicit, not simply making the past more memorable, but unravelling the present cloaked in fiction. I hope this continues. I think it will. We haven’t really got much choice.  

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Sam Gordon Webb

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May 2022
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