FocusFlik: “We ain’t in Kansas anymore kid…” Artistic culture shocks, old people and the film club

I’ve recently moved from my hometown of Watford, (just outside of North London). I was born in Islington, I was raised on London’s doorstep. I’ve had the cultural capital of the UK on a 20 minute train track from my flat. But all that changed when I moved in with my parents in Jersey (not New Jersey as Google is constantly suggesting to me), Jersey in the Channel Islands, just off France. As one of my closest friends paraphrased, ‘We ain’t in Kansas no more kid’. Kansas it is not. I won’t bore you with the widely thought of as corrupt politicians, the crazy fact that they’ve only just introduced discrimination laws for ethnicity (but not gender, know your place women) and the fact that Jersey is most famous for the likes of Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow ferreting away their millions to avoid UK tax, let’s just say that for some people, Jersey doesn’t have a good rep.

I can’t be too critical of the place, for I am half Jersey blood. My mother was born here, and about 40% of my family live over here. I’ve been coming here since I could walk and talk, I have immensely happy memories of coming here for holidays as a child, and some horrible memories of coming here for single nights at a time to watch my grandmother die. It’s my second home, and I used to think as a child, I was somehow better than the other kids, because my family lived within walking distances of beaches. Could you imagine! In North London where the only sand you’d ever see was in builders yards! Me, a beach kid! But as I’ve grown up around a multitude of ethnicities, religions, sexualities, I mean, I’ve got some weird friends. I know weird people. But that’s normality to me. I’ve always had access to “the arts”. About 30% of everything I’ve experienced, student films, art exhibitions, experimental bands, theatre, poetry, has been total garbage. Too exclusive for it’s own good, but at least I had the opportunity to distinguish between total garbage and exquisite art.

As part of my plan to ensure that my only friends aren’t mum, dad, my brother and his girlfriend, I thought I’d take a trip down to the Arts Centre in town. It’s but a mere 15min walk from my house, and tonight was the Jersey Film Society showing of Blue is the Warmest Colour. Without going into a review (coming soon folks), it’s a French film with the beating heart being female sexuality. That’s all you need to know, the country where protest boobs are on the news at 5pm, you can pretty much imagine what the film will be like. So one thing I notice when I go up to the box office to get my ticket, is the age of the volunteers. Now, no disrespect to the elder generation, not at all. But, when the average age of the volunteers appears to be about 60, alarm bells went off in my head. I collected my ticket and looked around for potential conversation opportunities, perhaps a group of arty looking students, perhaps I could approach them, kick off with my killer intro line “I’ve never been here before! Do you come here often?”. But alas, there was a restaurant where a bar should be. Everyone was confined to their max 4 seater tables eating their dinner, talking amongst themselves. Immediately I’d hit a barrier. So I followed a sort of crowd upstairs, perhaps naively assuming “the bar must be upstairs, yes. That’s where all the younger people will be”. At the top of the stairs was a lady, who was perhaps 70, handing out slips of paper to people. Before I could even roll out the killer intro line I was informed that I needed to vote on whether the film was any good. A queue had accumulated behind me, so I made my way into the theatre and sat down. As a bell rang to signal the imenent start of the film, I looked around me. There wasn’t any people under the age of 35 in sight. I was, without a doubt, the youngest person in the building. I’m 26 by the way, just in case you were wondering. I was a bit shocked really, where are all the kids?

Now back to my earlier point, the French cinema-lesbian-sex-fuelled-vagina fest we were about to embark on. Perhaps I’m a bit more aware of French cinema than my temporary acquaintances in that theatre, but I instantly knew there would be a lot of sex. I mean come on, it’s French cinema, the home of unsimulated sex on screen. However, I didn’t expect the reaction that a six-minute lesbian sex scene would generate. Audibly, people were saying “this is disgusting”, one woman even walked out retching. Extreme reaction to naked flesh, but perhaps there aren’t many big ol’ lesbians over here? Perhaps lesbianism is exotic, taboo, and certainly watching one women rim another woman was perhaps not the usual viewing material over here? I found the reaction of some of the audience, a good opportunity to remind my readers that this was a Jersey Film Society screening (not your usual multiplex fluff), a bit perplexing. Sure, it’s not high on my list of priorities to see women rubbing their vaginas together, but you know, it happens, so what. And I refer back to my original point; IT’S FRENCH CINEMA, LAND OF SEXY TIME. the expectation for it should have been there. So why the bad reaction? At one point half the audience descended into awkward laughter, you know the kind, when you’re watching Game of Thrones with your parents when Little Finger is doing one of his ‘sex speeches’. That kind of laughter. I’m not sure that a group of young people, meant in the non-patronising political way, the reaction perhaps wouldn’t be so…awkward? At university, I watched The Idiots. If you don’t know, it’s about people who get together and pretend to have special needs, presumably to not have to deal with horrible life stuff, such as rent, or taxes or dying parents. At one point it descends into an orgy, lots of unsimulated sex everywhere, close up, different angles, which on a 6ft by 8ft screen could be classed as a bit ‘in yer face’. But given that we were a group of film students, no one really did or said anything, not really. Hey, people have sex, this is what it looks like, deal. And this is all before the couple next to me spent the last two hours of the film dry humping one another, presumably assuming that I didn’t notice. I did. And please stop. You’re old enough to be my parents, or possibly grandparents.

One of the problems in Jersey, is that there is one college. Where they offer 5 arts courses (3 of which are full time to students, and 2 part time leisure), and 2 full time media courses. The full time ones, BTEC level 2 & 3 in Art Design, and level 3 in Art Foundation. The media courses are BTEC in Media and Media Production. The part time leisure courses are Oil Painting and Outdoor Photography (a bit ‘fuck you’ to anyone who likes indoor photography or watercolours then). The amount of courses for Culinary Art (wine tasting, patisserie, confectionary, spirits) is three times the number of arts courses on offer. The number of financial qualifications on offer is double the amount of culinary courses, there is a specific course entitled ‘Offshore accounting’ (read: how to not pay your taxes legally and immorally). It’s clear to see that ‘the arts’ isn’t important here… The annual Branchage Film Festival, one of Jersey’s most esteemed, established and respected film events takes place every September. Looking at the 2014 programme, it’s easy to see why it’s esteemed. Some big film art world players, Peter Blake features heavily. Some good arthouse cinema, some lesser known mainstream cinema, however dotted in and amongst that is Bob Stanley’s Pop Quiz, Bergerac Walk, Social Enterprise talk and Occupied Island walk. I can see about 3 events suitable for children, but actually they’re pointless anyway, because Branchage is ridiculously expensive. Seriously expensive. I resent that these festival organisers charge an enormous amount of money for something which should be low-cost. There’s no mention of donation to charities (usually in my experience, these festivals are in aid somewhat of a charity), the chairman is apparently a tank enthusiast who studied electronic engineering. My film soul is weeping. Where is the cool, edgy, youth orientated events? Where are the student film competitions? I guess no one studied it…My parents have been to Branchage and said it was great, but with each event costing £20+ for anything that isn’t a simple, straightforward screening, therein lies the problem. Kids don’t have £20 of expendable income to go and see a director Q&A, something which could inspire the next Kubrick.

And that’s the inherent problem with the arts here, there isn’t even the opportunity to go and see an egotistical dickhead “fartist” who’s actually a bit shit at making art but is going to charge you for the privelege anyway, there isn’t even an opportunity to see bad art, because the art that is here is either stilted and old fashioned, or simply out of your price range. When you make art exclusive, and particularly something unobtainable by young people, you have a problem on your hands. Art is a responsive medium, you only need to look at the Charlie Hebdo works to realise how culturally significant art is to the world, for both good and bad shifts in culture. Without art, a culture is simply put, numbers and stats. Even worse, a culture that doesn’t value what little art it can offer is destined for the swamps of mediocrity, not only is it not interesting, but it doesn’t have anything interesting to say about its own culture. The second your artistic expression says ‘well, it’s alright isn’t it’ rather than ‘FUCK YOU’ is when you need to turn to the younger generation. Despite these images of Instagram, selfies and YOLO, kids have got things to say about the way their world is, it’s all too easily forgotten, that one day the screaming girls at One Direction concerts will be CEOs, MDs, politicians, business owners, mothers, and perhaps, artists. If art isnt taught as a medium of expression, then what hope do we have of art moving forward, breaking boundaries, testing the audience, confronting ‘the big man’.

So how does one encourage of group of kids who would probably tell me to fuck off back to Marks and Spencer and buy an electric blanket, to get into cinema? It’s certainly not with film screenings staffed by a group of older volunteers (sorry Golden Oldies!), you need to get into the college, the secondary schools, advertise the films being shown, ask them what THEY want to see. Invite kids to make their own films, I mean, I’ve watched short films entirely made on iPhones, you don’t need to study film to make one. Get something in between the In The Night Garden read-alongs and screenings of Jean De Florette, let’s face it. Kids don’t give a shit about Gerard Depardieu’s farm not being watered. They want edgy, cool, weird. They want a taste of the dangerous and thought provoking. Perhaps not balls-deep straight away into the latest Turkish black and white arthouse drama, ease them in. You know what’s cool, Amelie, OldBoy, Battle Royale. This is what kids want. Make it interactive, what’s wrong with a seminar afterwards? What about making your own stop-motion animation. At previous film festivals, I’ve watched groups of 4-10 year old kids go fucking nuts over their short films. Cinema always has been, and always will be fun. I resent the multiplex stance of “LETS RAM TRANSFORMERS DOWN YOUR THROATS UNTIL YOU EVENTUALLY BECOME BRAIN DEAD”. There is no in between here, it’s either multiplex dross, or arthouse/golden age of cinema, which almost instantly puts off everyone under the age of 35 who has a somewhat non monogamous relationship with film. These types of film societies and clubs need to compete with the £16 a month unlimited films deal down at the singular multiplex on the island, they need to up their game rather than write off these kids, who’s glossy veneer of iPhones and Twitter is no excuse to exclude them from the arts.

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