`In a sense you could say that cinema is dead", the British film- maker and installation artist Isaac Julien claimed last year in Sight and Sound, commenting on the slew of exhibitions in the mid- 1990s celebrating the centenary of cinema. "And it's up to artists to resurrect it."
In the intervening years, the gallery has come to look increasingly like a space where challenging and experimental work with the moving image can be found (Tate Modern, for instance, is in the middle of a large film and video retrospective, Performing Bodies). Now that the newly-formed, market-populist Film Council has absorbed both the British Film Institute's production wing and the film and video department of the Arts Council of England (both of whose traditional remit was to produce work that would not otherwise be made), how confidently can one assume that such experimental work will be encouraged? With pounds 5m worth of subsidy available to film- makers from the Film Council's New Cinema fund, it's fair to ask what is behind its vision of the "new". "Everything that's contemporary in innovative, low-budget, narrative fiction", the Film Council's Ian Thompson explains. "But not `experimental' film. That's too hard to define."
Well, yes and no. The rich and diverse history of such work in the UK has nurtured important film-makers such as Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, Patrick Keiller and John Maybury, all of whom moved from the avant-garde into making features. Of the current generation of British artist-film- makers, the only one who, it seems, is preparing for such a transition is Turner Prize-winner Steve McQueen. Co-funded by Film Four, McQueen is currently preparing a treatment with novelist Zadie Smith and musician Tricky for a film entitled Timbuctu.
Over the last few years it's been noticeable that galleries have not only been exhibition spaces for moving-image installation work but also alternative spaces for film-makers. For example, a Chris Marker show at South London's Beaconsfield Gallery last year drew a crowd that was as much art-based as film-oriented. The same goes for gallery-screenings by Chantal Akerman and Alexander Sokurov. Harmony Korine too, whose julien …