So I arrived in Mumbai on the coldest day there in 46 years. It gave me a brief sense of bravado, strutting around saying, 'but it's scorching' as locals shivered in the 13 C dusk. The strutting didn't last long after I left my passport in one of the city's 55,000 taxis. Five hours and 32km later it turns up, making my first day feel at once both the unluckiest and most fortunate.
Actually the taxi ride to the airport (which I took three times that day) makes it clear just how lucky I am. Two weeks on, from the seclusion of a Goan beach I have become used to it, but still the poverty makes anything I've seen before pale into insignificance. Words do little justice, while filming seems gawkish, but the single image of a child, perhaps two years old, sitting in its own excrement while eating from the pavement, just opposite the gothic grandeur of CST, Asia's busiest train station, is forever burnt in my mind. In many ways it feels like the rest of the trip is about figuring out what I can do.
In the meantime, here's some of the film and culture news I've noticed since I've been here.
Some encouraging news, first off, with the announcement that Greg 'BBC Superstar' Dyke is to take over from Anthoney MInghella as chair at the BFI. Why so good, other than his general energy and inspiring leadership, you ask? Well, at the BBC he initiated a project - the Creative Archive - which sought to put the full BBC archive of programmes, news, audio and so forth online and into the hands of the British public (who had funded them) to use for any non-commercial purpose. Obviously the idea terrified the media majors - it would have made the BBC the biggest provider of free quality video in the world, and perhaps triggered a creative renaissance as people started rediscovering, remixing and reworking long forgotten gems. One conspiratorial bod suggested to me that this was the real reason it was so easy for him to be forced out of the job , he was forced out of the job at the BBC. Either way, after leaving, the project was mothballed, but it seems he is now to redirect that energy onto the BFI archive, one he describes as the best in the world. It couldn't have come at a better time, with a recent 25m (can't find the pound sign) government investment into the archive , offering great hope for putting . Having just finished the first phase of an online archive project for Contemporary Films (the UK's longest running indie distributor), and seen how much Brewster Kahle has achieved with Archive.org on donations alone to suggest that the money would amply get the public domain parts of the archive online, and perhaps cover rights clearances on some of the rest as well. Film students, VJs, experimental artists, researchers, documentarians... watch this space.
Following on from the double whammy death blow of the Arts Council's
slashing of support for hundreds of essential small theatres,
galleries, festivals and arts organisations, and the possibly closure of the
British Council's arts departments - comes the (brilliant) news that
the Department of Children Schools and Families wants young people to receive five hours of quality cultural experiences a week.
They will also be encouraged to look at creative careers . My work with
TAG Theatre proved to me how positive the impact of live arts could be
on young people, and it's great that the government has finally
recognised this. But the plans - which will see children in 10 pilot
areas taken to galleries, theatres and museums, runs so contrarily to
the Arts Council's catastrophic actions where acclaimed theatre in education groups like London Bubble have had their funding 100% cut and face closure. Harrogate Theatre, where I saw countless breathtaking plays as a child, not to mention acted and directed there, has had its 400k grant slashed to 150k , threatening all in-house shows.
And 'the Strike' finally ended, just in time for the Oscars, after an astonishingly successful and impacting 100 days . From across the pond it was really something to see Letterman and Leno forced off the air by strikers, in the world capital of capitalism (tho both were early pioneers with the Comedy Store strikes in '79). Writers voted overwhelmingly (92.5%) in favour of the deal which will see a WGA writer of any high-budget programme earning around $1400 - $1600 a year for each ad-supported streamed webisode (up from nil). High budget is defined as costing more than the lower of $15,000 a minute, $300,000 an episode or $500,000 a series.
And Spielberg's quit the Chinese Olympics as adviser in protest over Chinese influence (or lack of it) in Darfur. It's refreshing to see some Hollywood action over likely ethnic cleansing during the atrocity rather than many years later - Rwanda's horrors took place around the same time that Schindler's List was released, Sudan's problems began around the time that Hotel Rwanda came out.
What else? Well you probably know about the French coup d'etat at the BAFTAs (I'm a traveller now, so use emoticons in otherwise polite conversation), and Brazil taking the Golden Bear at Berlin. The media could be on the brink of acting like adults over Britney , Film London has a fantastic-looking new entrant scheme , the BBC is joining iTunes and the last screening at Swansea's La Charrette cinema will be the world premiere of Danny Boyle's segment of the shelved Alien Love Triangle .
Someone else trekking to India in recent days was David Lynch, for the funeral of Transcendental Meditation founder, the Maharishi. Best known for influencing western pop music
forever following his brief training of The Beatles in Transcendental Meditation around the White
Album period, the Maharishi was a controversial figure, amassing
millions as eastern philosophy and practices first began to be explored
and embraced by the west.
Which reminds me, I'm a few steps from sun, sand and sea, and instead hunch over this machine embedding hyper-links like a junkie. Oh well, old habits die hard, I guess.