Filmmakers have a responsibility to society

Lord David Puttman came to Athens this week to speak in a double capacity: as a film producer who for 30 years made such box-office hits as «Midnight Express» and «The Killing Fields,» and, after he retired in 1998, his move from film production to focus on education. He has served as chairman of Britain’s General Teaching Council, of which he is still a member, among several other educational posts. Puttnam is a complex personality, a person with wide interests. One might say that his activities appear to be unconnected, but Puttnam does not agree. An element of «social mission» has linked his activities throughout the years, as he has tested himself in nearly all forms of communication with the public. Most people know him as the man associated with movie hits such as «Chariots of Fire,» in which he worked with Greek composer Vangelis Papathanasiou. He has been one of the few non-Americans to work in Hollywood and on films with an ethos, a word of Greek origin that Puttnam often uses when referring to the moral dimension of the film industry’s responsibility to mass entertainment. It is an issue that he has been involved with in recent years from another angle, working to raise the quality of state education in British schools. Puttnam was in Athens this week for two lectures. On Tuesday he spoke at the Athens Concert Hall on new technology and 21st century education, while last night his subject was «Filmmaking: The Moral Imagination,» a lecture organized by the British Embassy and Kathimerini. For Puttnam, author of books such as «The Undeclared War» (1997) and «Movies and Money,» a decisive factor in movies is the invisible side of the industry, the politics of moviemaking. The coexistence of quality and commercial viability is one of the major issues that he has raised not only in his books but throughout his career. The basis for understanding an issue is to raise the right questions at the right time. He believes the appropriate and intelligent use of advanced technology in education can radically improve its quality, although Puttnam is very careful not to give his audiences easy answers. Shortly before he arrived in Athens, he gave Kathimerini the following interview. Have you seen any changes in the film industry since you left in 1998? The situation I identified with 15 years ago is basically the same or worse. You seem to emphasize the question of responsibility in the film industry… Yes, that’s exactly what I will talk about. I had a good relationship with Warner Brothers for over 20 years, so I always had a relationship with the studios. What this relationship meant is a different issue, more complicated. But it has nothing to do with the issue of responsibility in filmmaking. Did you try to convey a specific ethos in the films that you were producing? It is up to the people who watch the movies to tell me! Love of adventure, concern about society – have these qualities become more rare nowadays? I think so, but you do get films with enormous success like «The Lord of the Rings» which is a very responsible, very moral tale. And there’s nothing wrong with Harry Potter, but at the same time these are not films for the older audience which nowadays is getting bigger and bigger. We no longer have a child audience. What would you say to European directors who are not happy with Hollywood productions? They have to work with Hollywood, there is a very good documentary by Martin Scorsese how generations of directors working in Hollywood had to negotiate their way through a quite complicated minefield. But for the most part, they were able to do it. You were also interested in bringing European directors into the US. While I was there, they had an enormous amount of success. I collaborated with Emir Kusturica, Istvan Szabo, really a large number of European directors. And did this open the American market to Europe? Not sufficiently, no. It wasn’t particularly successful. You see, it takes a lot of time, about five to 10 years before you are big enough to have an effect. Are there now in America people like yourself that are trying to do the same thing? I have been out of the business for five years now. I don’t go to the movies often, I watch a lot of movies in DVD and I particularly like old films, but I am completely the wrong person to give you an honest answer. Do they reflect aspects of your own character? No, they reflect aspects of my father’s character. I just spent most of my life trying to be my father. My father was a journalist. What I tried to do was to relate to his experience and to his example. Did he publish a book? No, he was writing one when he died. Did you produce films that you would like to watch as a viewer? Yes, absolutely, but I don’t think I would be interested in going back to producing films. Not at all. You have been involved in numerous councils, museums, societies. What made you develop this interest? I don’t know. I started doing it and then one thing leads to another. You start thinking that all these things are separate and then you discover that they are not, they are connected. It is this connectiveness that attracts me. Things are remarkably similar. That’s what fascinates me, that they are connected. You have so many interests, photography, cinema… Yes, but I am very old. I have been doing it for a long time. I have had a lot of different interests and careers, advertising, movies, education. There is a complete logic in it. It is not whimsical. Now, in education, do you again feel that you have to bring up the question of responsibility? Absolutely. Now, in Britain, we are experimenting very much with new forms of education. We are using new technology in education more than any other European country. We are quite adventurous. Is new technology linked to a higher quality of education? Precisely. And it is happening for real, not only but largely due to technology. Can we then say that you are optimistic about the future of education? Not yet! I think we are beginning to know which questions to ask. But we can’t go much beyond that.