“I run Film London and the British Film Commission. We do everything from supporting talent by funding short films, and low budget feature films. We have a locations commission for London, which supports all the film and television that shoots in London. And we also have an archive team that works with the London Film and Television archives. We also have a cinema exhibition team that deals with independent cinemas in London, supports them showing independent film, and non-English language film across London. I also have a national responsibility to promote the UK as a place to shoot, to work with government, to ensure that government policies are friendly towards film, and to troubleshoot, and work with our partners around the UK to make sure that the big movies and television series for everything from the Star Wars movies, through to Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, and all the HBO shows and all the Netflix and Amazon shows that are running here get what they need to spend their money and employ people here.”
That’s Adrian Wootton’s day job! Outside of that, the former director of the London Film Festival – who still advises the festival along with the Venice Film Festival – loves nothing more than to spread his passion for film culture through lectures and talks.
“I’ve quite a long history with the Melbourne Film Festival. My talks tend to be looking at subjects that I’m interested in like writers, directors, and performers who I think are particularly important culturally and creatively.
“In previous years I’ve done everything from Dickens and Shakespeare to Katharine Hepburn, Billy Wilder, Frank Sinatra and Elvis. And this year I decided that I wanted to look back on some particularly storied careers. But they had a link. The link is very much about music and movies and all these people have had careers that have encompassed both. On top of which I wanted to flush out why I think they’re significant, and perhaps make some connections that hadn’t been made.”
Wootton will be presenting the following at MIFF: ‘Barbara Streisand: Diva & Activist‘, ‘David Bowie: Iconoclastic Genius‘, ‘Marilyn Monroe: Enduring Pop Icon‘, and ‘Sammy Davis Jr.: Breaking Barriers‘.
“Did you ever think about all these people?” he asks us rhetorically. “They’re all groundbreaking, they all broke prejudices. Broke through colour barriers in Sammy Davis’s case. They broke through sexual stereotypes and abuse in Marilyn Monroe’s case. In terms of Barbra Streisand, ethnicity and notions of gender, and notions of femininity and beauty. And David Bowie, he broke so many barriers we’d have to spend all night talking about it. All of these people changed the culture that we live in. And had a positive force and influence, and that’s a very important part of what I’m trying to do.
Wootton assures us that the 4 talks are highly accessible, “painting a picture of the careers of the people involved, with a wealth of information and anecdotes about their professional lives and personal lives, the trials, the tribulations, the highs and the lows of their careers.
“This isn’t just me doing a dry academic talk,” he assures us. “Each of the talks has a real lavish visual presentation. You’re getting stuff about these people that you haven’t heard, or you haven’t heard contextualized in this particular way. I think generally the reason I keep coming back to MIFF is that I think people have found them accessible and, hopefully quite emotional. They’re meant to engage with the audience, and really immerse you in the stories of these people.”
For someone with such a deep well of knowledge and appreciation for film culture, it’s not surprising to find out that Wootton believes that the best filmmakers and performers were all lovers of the film medium and its history.
“I do talk a lot at universities and schools, and I keep on saying to people that there’s two elements to being creative. Whether it’s a performer, whether it’s a writer, whether it’s director, whatever you do or whatever you want to do in the creative field, if you don’t know the history of the medium, if you don’t watch the movies and care about the movies, and the television shows, unless you have immersed yourself in it, then I think your creative expression will be poorer for it.
“None of the people that I’m talking about in this talk, whether it’s Barbra Streisand, David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe or Sammy Davis Jr., none of them went into the movies, not loving the movies, not caring about them, not immersing themselves in music, not wanting to know more. They all had a thirst for knowledge. And I think the greatest filmmakers that we have in whatever country in the world, are obsessed with watching movies, caring about movies, and television programs. And I think that it’s made them richer filmmakers, musicians, performers, artists. Because of that. I can’t think of an artist, and I’m using the broadest definition, who hasn’t done that.”