7 November 2008

British animation: The Channel 4 factor

Clare Kitson commissioned animation for Channel 4 from 1989 to 1999, and her book is a personal and authoritative review of the period, bracketed with a bit of the before, and observations about the current state of play.

But the book is no wallow in a subjective history. Clare is scrupulous and questioning about all that kind of stuff. Her charting of the early days of Channel 4 is informative and evocative of the ambition and freedom of those times. And her perspective on how things have gone since her departure is considered, and where critical, recognises context and realities. 

But what's really great is what takes up most of the book - in depth, well illustrated essays on 30 key works - jam packed with facts and reflections - and providing unique insight into the processes of making animated films.  And if only one of these is an Animate film, then I'm consoled that 11 of them are made by people commissioned by Animate to make other films. 

The book is an invaluable, important, essential contribution. It gives a terrific sense - both in broadcasting and individual productions - of how things work.

From my own time at the Arts Council - I started working there as the first Animate films were being delivered - one of the things I remember about Clare is her generosity and risk-taking in accepting/trusting the opinion of others - at least in areas where she felt she lacked particular experience or expertise. So I'm sure she'll allow a couple of record straightening comments. 

I didn't simply 'migrate' from the Arts Council to set up Animate Projects - they'd made me redundant six months beforehand, and Jacqui and I spent a very uncomfortable couple of months where we cash-flowed things with our own money, looking after projects in production, and launching a new round in good faith, on the words, and promise of contracts, of the Arts Council and Channel 4.

I think Clare overstates Animate's relationship with LUX - they have distribution copies of the films, but the shift to an emphatically 'art' agenda for the broader Animate 'project' was something that Dick Arnall and the Animate freelancers forged ahead with, following an Arts Council review.  

And I can't agree that "British art animation in a fragile state". Funding certainly is, and as a result, the tradition of 'arthouse', independent animation is in a period of drought...but animation is a vital and flourishing aspect of current visual arts practice. And terms like 'fringe' and 'marginal' really depend on where you're viewing things from - Animate films have won Baftas and BAAs - and are shown internationally - and not just in 'cutting-edge' categories. But these tele-centric viewpoint lapses (ahem...) are minor and rare, and it feels a bit impertinent to even mention them. Animate's relationship with C4 - with, and since, Clare - has been one of utmost, reciprocal, respect. If only power and money were always in the hands of the ones who love you.

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