This year, London was selected for Toronto Film Festival’s City to City segment, a showcase from filmmakers living and working in the city of choice. At the press conference, discussion turned to the British obsession with class and the class divide. Panel-featured filmmaker David Farr said that the UK possesses a “kind of madness around the subject”. Farr’s debut film The Ones Below depicts a middle-class couple’s psychological warfare with the neighbours downstairs; for him, “The films that really drive me mad are the posh films about posh people made by posh people”.
Several of the Directors present agreed that British films oscillate between period-dramas or social realism, and that working with either paradigm while leaving what lies between untouched can be extremely limiting to the creative process. “I want to see more stories about the gentrified people and go into uncompromising stories about them,” said Tom Geens, a Belgium-born filmmaker who has been living in London for the past two decades. “Uncomfortable stories about the middle classes, which you rarely see in the UK… they’re kind of the ignored class in a way, because it’s a lot of middle class people making films about [the] working class or gangs or drug dealers or council estates”.
However, not all British directors saw eye-to-eye with this new perspective. Michael Caton-Jones, director of Urban Hymn stated that the middle-class already possess enough influence within the film industry. “Filming is essentially a bourgeois sport,” he said. “The most loathsome kind of film is this heritage Britain: basically shilling for tourists to get people to come and visit the place. And it’s a kind of cultural dead end.” Caton’s low-budget flick tells the story of a teenager who is able to battle her demons through the power of singing with the help of her social worker, played by Shirley Henderson. “Unfortunately the middle class have this cultural chokehold on what we get to make. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am,” he said whilst speaking on the panel. “It’s almost been ghettoised. Like the country. You can make an expensive picture with a Redmayne or a Cumberbatch, or you can go down the estates and hug some hoodies. That’s basically your choice”.
Elaine Constantine shared a different outlook, and explained that part of the problem was the necessity for films to cater to an American audience. Her film Northern Soul focuses on the emergence of the new music scene in the 70s. “Everything that’s produced has to be appealing to the American audience because of our language. I’ve been in so many meetings where people have said ‘You can’t do a film about the north and have people going ‘Eeeee … bloody hell’ because the Americans won’t understand’,” she said.