Streaming and CGI? The future of TV and Film after COVID-19?

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the film and television industries. Production has been halted on all UK feature films and television series, cinemas were closed, and film festivals migrated on line.

The onset of the virus has, however, accelerated changes that were already forecast. The enhanced subscription take up  for the streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney is one such example; a second being the straight to digital strategy of film releasing, thereby eschewing cinemas, as recently happened with ‘Misbehaviour’, Philippa Lowthorpe’s film of the 1970 Miss World and its feminist disruption of the contest.

The impact of the virus has also exposed the economically vulnerability of many of those working in the screen sector, who are on short term self employed contracts, moving from project to project, and from one part of the country to another. Yet, the response of both the public and the private wings of the industry in supporting the laid off work force has been admirable. Not only the British Film Institute and the film union, BECTU, but Netflix and Mubi have also set up funds to help those in need.

As production looks to reboot after the lockdown, a whole host of questions need resolving: including social distancing rules on set and on locations; requirements to quarantine foreign cast and crew; how to deliver catering and transport arrangements; the vexed question of insurance . Will PPE be required for hair, make up and costume preparation? Will daily health screenings need to take place? Will all crowd scenes be replaced by CGI?

Industry discussion suggests that cinemas will open again in August. But will the public be attracted back to venues that due to social distancing rules will only at their maximum be a possible quarter or third full, and thus lack the essential communal ‘atmosphere’? Will the pipeline of product, stemmed in March by the virus, be in enough quantity and quality to satisfy an audience’s appetite? 

During lockdown, the streaming platforms have been the saving grace, but will that lead to a total shift away from cinemas as we move into a new, post-corona culture? I guess we will find out!

Professor Roger Shannon is Emeritus Director of the Institute for Creative Enterprise (ICE) at Edge Hill University.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Covid-19: Hollywood’s Next 9/11?

Media scholarship, cultural commentary and movie reviews regularly reflect on production contexts and their impact on possible readings of the films and shows we watch. Both 9/11 and the Covid-19 epidemic have been described by as ‘America under attack.’ President Trump has stated that the epidemic is a ‘worse attack’ on the US than both Pearl Harbor and 9/11; extending a political rhetoric that has linked 1941 and 2001.[1]

In the wake of 9/11 numerous books and articles have considered its impact on tropes, gender representations, heroic (and superheroic) constructions and visual representations of, not only terrorism, but also violence more generally. 9/11 also impacted representations of ethnicity in a binary of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’. Saving Jessica Lynch, for example, a US 2003 made-for-TV movie, dramatised the ‘rescue’ of Private First-Class Lynch (white, female) from an Iraqi hospital, characterised the Iraqis as sadistic savages, and of course, Islamic zealots.  

Reflecting both 9/11 and Covid-19, Dahlia Schweitzer explores a striking connection between terrorism and contagion when she writes about the spate of TV shows in the post-9/11 period, that combined the terrorist threat with deliberate viral infection. In such examples, either a virus-laden ‘bomb’ is hidden in a public place or an infected person deliberately spreads the virus within the USA; often again with racial undertones.

In 24 (Fox, Season 3, 2003-4),[2] the viral threat hails from Mexican drug barons. In, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), the virus is traced to food preparation in China. In both, the origin of the threat is placed the ‘exotic’ Global South and East – while the location under ‘threat’ is the affluent Global North. Such representations follow a narrative pattern that ‘buries the workings of colonialism.’[3]

2020 may have a similar, if not even a more pronounced impact on popular culture that goes beyond the films and TV shows that are broadly labelled ‘Hollywood.’ Yet it is likely that the stories will be told, as with 9/11, in a way that reflects dominant attitudes towards the ‘others’ responsible for the threat.

Where there is attack there is an aggressor, setting the scene for an ideal melodramatic conflict of good and evil. Based on the narratives emerging from the post-9/11 era, and given President Trump’s well-publicised Tweets referring to the ‘Chinese virus,’ we may be set to see more films and TV shows placing the blame for global threat on China specifically or fictional places conspicuously designed to mimic that nation. Such representation will serve to re-enforce conceptualisations of good and evil, rather than challenge them.

Dr Jenny Barrett is Reader in Film Studies and Popular Culture, and Deputy Director: International Centre for Racism at Edge Hill University.

[1] For example, Ebony Bowden, ‘Trump says coronavirus pandemic ‘worse than Pearl Harbor…World Trade Center’, New York Post, 6th May 2020

[2] Dahlia Schweitzer “Terrorist as Contagious Other.” In Media Res.29th November 2016.

[3] Mark Bould, ‘The Virus Has Seized the Means of Production,Boston Review, 8th May 2020.

Mug #CIFF19

Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska has described her film Twarz/Mug (2018) as a ‘fairy tale for adults’, a provocatively beguiling definition of the Jury Grand Prix winner at Berlin this year. Irrespective of whether the audience might agree with that description of the film they watched, it was apposite on the closing night of the 2019 iteration of Chester’s International Film Festival on 20 March in the city’s charming Storyhouse, which commenced with the audience awarding the Best Animation prize to Tatiana Kublitskaya’s Pilipka (2012), a delightful fairy tale from Belarus.

The main feature presented a stark contrast, recounting the story of Jacek, a young heavy metalhead construction worker living in a remote Polish community riddled with narrow-minded attitudes towards outsiders, a tendency towards bawdy, expletive-filled, politically incorrect jokes and internecine squabbling over inheritances. Jacek dotes on his girlfriend, Dagmara, and dreams of relocating to London, despite the fact, as his brother-in-law bluntly points out, that the UK no longer wants any more foreigners, a view he fully endorses.

The protagonist is helping to construct a monumental statue of Christ, which the local Catholic priest is delighted will surpass the equivalent in Rio de Janiero, but after he suffers a serious accident Jacek’s life turns about face, literally. For Jacek becomes Poland’s first recipient of a face transplant, leaving him hideously disfigured and unable to speak properly. The once impish, good-looking young man is shunned by the community, treated as an outsider, a monster, including by Dagmara. His sister is the only person to stand by him.

The human body is something of a leitmotif through Szumowska’s oeuvre. Here the possible metaphorical interpretations of the face are left as open to the audience as the ending, when Jacek finally leaves, gazing up at the statue’s face, which appears to be averted from the village over which it towers. Ashamed by the prejudices of the village? Or the hubris of the Catholic Church?

The film’s relevance to a Europe troubled by a rise in xenophobia is axiomatic. Nonetheless, the film’s wickedly infectious vein of dark, absurdist humour, another feature of Szumowska’s work, lifts what might otherwise have been a rather downbeat, maudlin tale. The film opens with a hilariously surreal Black Friday-style event where the shoppers have to fight for goods in their underwear, and the variegated tone is thus set for more laughter than one might expect in such a disturbing tale. Mateusz Kosciukiewicz excels in the lead role, heart-rending at one moment, irreverent the next, making Jacek sympathetic, but not without his flaws.

Mug is the type of film that provokes reactions, and divides opinions; and that’s as it should be…

Prof Owen Evans is Professor in Film at Edge Hill University.

The Chester International Film Festival
09-20 March 2019, at Storyhouse, Chester
Curated by the I4P Director, Prof Jo Crotty, the annual Chester International Film Festival offers a remarkable selection of films that share stories and experiences from around the world. Three of this year’s films will be introduced by EHU academics, Prof Owen Evans (Mug), Prof Claire Parkinson (Dogman) and Dr Andrea Wright (Waru). #CIFF19


It was a wet and blustery afternoon in Chester on Sunday. Despite the weather, a good crowd made their way to the fantastic Storyhouse in the town centre for a screening of Dogman (2018). Included as part of the Chester International Film Festival screening programme, I was delighted to be invited by the festival curator, Professor Jo Crotty, to introduce the film in such a splendid cinema space.

Directed by Matteo Garrone, Dogman is the story of a man who is a dog groomer by day and a drug dealer by night. Set against the decaying backdrop of a desolate Southern Italian seaside resort, Dogman portrays the brutality of macho hierarchies reimagined as pack mentality. This is a film about men and dogs. Characters bark, bite, and scurry away with their metaphoric tails between their legs.

The setting is so harsh and crumbling, inside and out, that the idea of a dog grooming business succeeding at times seems bizarre. To prop up his income, Marcello deals coke and, in his spare time, attends shows where he preens and prepares poodles for exhibition.

Dogs feature prominently within this film although it is only the main protagonist Marcello, who we see having any kind of meaningful interaction with the canine cast of this film. These relationships between Marcello and the dogs function as metaphors for his relationships with humans. We are early in the film led to understand the degree and extent of Marcello’s compassion through his interactions with the canines. In his moments of care for the smaller dogs, we find the parallels with the relationship between Marcello and his daughter, Alida.

The core relationship of masculine submission and domination is between Marcello and Simone, a violent tough-guy. These scenes replay emotionally and visually Marcello’s attempts to control, cajole and tame the dogs he grooms and cares for.

Some of the most harrowing and disturbing scenes in this film take place away from the sight of other humans but we are made aware at every turn that the dogs, and we the viewers, are watching the scenes of humanity and inhumanity that unfold on-screen. Indeed, the close-up shots that open and close this film ask us to contemplate on the murky boundary where humanity and animality begin and end.

Prof Claire Parkinson Professor of Film, TV and Digital Media and Co-Director Centre for Human Animal Studies (CfHAS)
at Edge Hill University.

The Chester International Film Festival
09-20 March 2019, at Storyhouse, Chester
Curated by the I4P Director, Prof Jo Crotty, the annual Chester International Film Festival offers a remarkable selection of films that share stories and experiences from around the world. Three of this year’s films will be introduced by EHU academics, Prof Owen Evans (Mug), Prof Claire Parkinson (Dogman) and Dr Andrea Wright (Waru). #CIFF19

Waru #CIFF19

It was a pleasure to be invited to speak at the 2019 Chester International Film Festival hosted at the impressive Storyhouse arts venue, and it was a particular honour to be able to introduce important examples of contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand cinema.

The opening film was the imaginative and beautifully animated short Trap. It focuses on a young, adopted, girl struggling to adapt to her new home, and captures the sense of entrapment felt by all the characters. A nice little twist offers them all a release.

The main feature, Waru, a realist portmanteau drama directed by eight women, takes the death of the titular child, Waru (Maori for eight), as its central subject. According to the producers, Kerry Warkia and Keil McNaughton, they also issued an additional challenge to their filmmakers: each segment must have a female Maori lead and had to be shot in one, single 10-minute take.

The result is powerful, thought-provoking and uncompromising. The intimacy of the single-shot segments as they follow eight different women in the aftermath of the tragedy draws the audience into a very private world of grief, anger, culpability, hopelessness and pain. Each of the stories takes a different perspective, but all have a refreshingly matter-of-fact approach that does not shy away from the drama of real life and the impact of bereavement.

I was particularly struck by two of the stories. Casey Kaa’s segment feature’s Waru’s teacher, Anahera (Roimata Fox), and is skilfully infused with tension and an overwhelming sense of guilt. It opens with a poignant conversation between the teacher and some of the young pupils as one of them tries to reserve a seat for Waru. Anahera, grappling with her own accountability, is overcome by the situation and leaves the classroom. Her life is further complicated by an affair she is having with one of the other staff. A fumbled encounter in a small bathroom signals that she is seeking some physical relief but cannot escape her shame for having done nothing to save the child.

Chelsea Cohen’s section jolts the viewer from the realist domestic settings and the tangi (funeral) to a bright, modern television studio. It highlights the challenges faced by presenter, Kiritapu (Maria Walker), who is confronted by casual racism from the make-up department who don’t have an appropriate foundation for her skin tone, to overt discrimination from the obnoxious ‘star’ anchor-man, Mike (Jonny Brugh). Kiritapu‘s on-air outburst against Mike’s dismissal of the child’s death a ‘Maori problem’, is an unambiguous challenge to everyone to take responsibility. The safety of children is all our responsibility and is not something that belongs to one community.

The film does not provide a neat and coherent narrative, but the fragmented style adds to its impact. We are left wanting to know ‘what happens next?’. Producer Warkia has noted that it was a project “born out of heartache, love and passion to protect our children”, but, significantly, “it was created with a desire to challenge perceptions and to start conversations.” It certainly succeeds.

Dr Andrea Wright, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and Senior SOLSTICE Fellowship Lead at Edge Hill University.

The Chester International Film Festival
09-20 March 2019, at Storyhouse, Chester
Curated by the I4P Director, Prof Jo Crotty, the annual Chester International Film Festival offers a remarkable selection of films that share stories and experiences from around the world. Three of this year’s films will be introduced by EHU academics, Prof Owen Evans (Mug), Prof Claire Parkinson (Dogman) and Dr Andrea Wright (Waru). #CIFF19