Before I begin, this has nothing to do with the United Kingdom’s future in the EU, so if you’re sick of all the referendum coverage, don’t worry. This is a referendum-free zone. However, I have been thinking about politics, and how filmmakers could – or if they even should – address political subjects in their films.
My firm belief is that they should. Writers and filmmakers, along with anyone involved in any artistic field, should always create something that means something to them. Of course, that doesn’t always have to include a political angle, but it should be more than just commercial motivations. Filmmaking is an expensive business, both for filmmakers themselves and for audiences. If we’re expecting people to give up their time to help us make something, or to watch what we’ve made, we’d better be sure that it we’re making something worthwhile, a project that contributes something a bit more profound than just allowing people to switch off their brains for the length of the running time.
I’ve been thinking about this because I started my last script in the days following the Mossack Fonseca leaks. I’d had the bare bones of the idea for a while, but it only really came to life following this story. Now, I’m not advocating scouring the newspapers for stories. For one thing, it could lead to basically recycling real life events for story ideas, which can look rather cynical and uninspired. Another downside is that anything that aims to be relevant by chasing the zeitgeist often ends up looking irrelevant and old fashioned quite quickly.
What I mean is finding inspiration is things that will give your work meaning. If you’re particularly interested in environmental issues for example, there’s no reason why your work can’t reflect those interests. At some level it’s inevitable that what interests you will come out in your work, even if it’s unintentional. The very best filmmaking comes from the heart, which is where truly held convictions should reside as well. So, if you’re working from the heart, and your beliefs/interests (religious, political, etc) are really heart felt, then there’s bound to be a crossover at some point. As well there should be.
Of course, we can run the risk of sounding like we’re preaching to people, with characters reduced to mere mouthpieces for our views. Which is why the best approach is to present the issues and subjects in a way that lets the audience decide what they think, that also leads to debate. It may also help produce more filmmakers willing to engage with difficult subjects in a thoughtful and intelligent way, meaning that audiences don’t have to stop thinking when the movie starts.