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LONDON — Alison Owen delivered a direct, passionate and often humorous defense of the movie as a storytelling medium in a keynote speech at BFI London Film Festival.
The British producer’s latest movie, Saving Mr. Banks, directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, closes this year’s fest on Sunday Oct. 20.
Owen opened proceedings by saying work had almost prevented her from being there to deliver her speech. She jetted into the British capital from South Africa off the set of The Giver, the Philip Noyce-directed sci-fi drama starring Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift and Alexander Skarsgaard.
She said the film’s Harvey Weinstein had telephoned her and said he was “gonna need you to be there until Friday with Taylor [Swift].” Owen said she told Harvey she “couldn’t because I have to deliver a speech” in London that day.
“What kind of speech?” came Weinstein’s reportedly gruff response.
When Owen explained she was due to deliver this year’s BFI London Film Festival industry keynote, the same address Harvey himself had given last year, “that shut him up.”
Owen, whose producer résumé boasts Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalie Portman and Jane Eyre with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, went on to tell the packed industry event that despite the pressure from all sides exerted by alternative content, movies will remain an essential pull.
Delivering this year’s keynote under the banner ‘The Power of the Story,’ Owen theorized that the internet should not and could not be regarded as an enemy to the movies, describing it simply as a new “container.”
“The first point to make is that, to my mind, it is crazy to say the Internet is going to kill off movies. The Internet is a container, not a substance,” Owen said. “To say the Internet is the death of books and movies is like saying someone invented a new, more efficient kind of cup and it heralds the death of coffee — a new improved form of carrying something, which is essentially what the Internet is, should be helpful to our business.”
She noted that while lives get busier and busier and leisure time is more precious than ever, she still believes cinema offers enough escape to survive and thrive. While the draw of reality TV such as Big Brother or Honey Booboo remains and staying in to play Grand Theft Auto may eat into cinema audiences, movies have the advantage of offering an emotional and communal experience.
“The problem is not technology per se, but the management of that technology — and the lack of a pervasive business model it seems,” Owen said.
“People didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and unanimously say ‘I’m fed up with midbudget dramas. I’m only going to see action tent poles from now on!’ ” She commented that it’s human nature to constantly crave good stories.
“It’s undeniable that there are lots of pretenders to the throne out there, utilizing modern technology much better than us at the moment,” Owen noted, citing the fact Grand Theft Auto V reached a billion dollars in its first three days of release.
“In just one day, the game made more money than all but one of the year’s movies (Iron Man 3, for anyone who’s interested) garnered in their entire theatrical runs. YouTube clips get millions, billions of hits. Reality TV programs have their own channels. How can movies attempt to compete with these kinds of numbers? And do we even need to? Are we scaring ourselves by unnecessary comparisons, by not comparing apples with apples?”
Owen argued that stories well told in 120 minutes or so to a communal audience escaping their lives is a unique entertainment proposition.
Owen, the managing director of Ruby Film and Television, followed previous industry keynote names that to date have included Weinstein, James Schamus and Ken Loach at the festival, marking the event’s fourth ever industry address.
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