On Wednesday 31st January, we welcomed legendary producer Tony Garnett to campus. An honorary graduate of the University, Tony was born in Birmingham in the 1930s and made his name working on films such as Kes and Cathy Come Home, with later work including This Life and Beautiful Thing. FTV student Sofía Podetti reflects on his talk and how it has made her consider her own ambitions for a life behind the lens.
“The most important thing I can tell you today is there is no formula to making a film”. This was the opening line to what would soon be one of the most interesting talks I have ever attended. The guest speaker was Tony Garnett, one of Britain’s most distinguished film and television producers – and a truly interesting person to listen to. To say this is probably a hyperbole since Mr Garnett worked in the industry for over 50 years, retiring a decade ago.
Overall, everything he said was fascinating to the small audience that was present last Wednesday. But probably the thing that impacted on me the most was the following phrase: “film is a social activity.” The fact is that the people who make films and television shows have always had a responsibility to society, since the product of their work is consumed by the masses as some sort of truth of the world we live in. Chilean scholar Valerio Fuenzalida argues that one of television’s core functions is the educational one because the audience tends to connect with the different characters and situations and take them as part of their social education. Unfortunately though, I don’t think this belief is shared by everyone in the industry; in my opinion, some are more centred in the economic aspect of the job rather than the social one. This results in products that sell very well but show no real values, which is a shame, really.
Realizing this has made me think about the kind of professional I want to be upon entering this incredibly competitive world: do I want to make money at any cost, or would I rather struggle a little bit more and produce inspiring shows and films? I would undoubtedly go for the second option, for I find it much more rewarding in the long term. I would love to produce content that raises awareness of different topics, empowering my viewers and helping them out through my films; I believe this is what the industry should really be about.
I know I am not alone in this. In the past years I have noticed a change of paradigm in the cinematographic industry, especially regarding the portrayal of women and children. This is just the beginning of a road that will bring sensible, valuable representations of society to our screens. I hope that ten years from now, when I have a family of my own, this will be a reality rather than a dream. Tony Garnett is one of the people who started this change; I hope that I can be a part of it too.