The following two interviews, with Rod Stoneman and Grainne Humphreys respectively, are part of a study of small national cinemas in a time of a globalized Hollywood. The other interviews in the study concern Scottish, Canadian, and New Zealand cinema. Together with a study of small and/or independent presses in Australia, the U.S.A., and the U.K., they explore areas of contemporary independent cultural production.
I: Increasing the Cultural Bandwidth: An Interview with Rod Stoneman
This interview took place at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media in Galway, Ireland, on October 14, 2004.
Noel King: Could you outline the stages of your career that took you from film studies, then to Channel 4 television, then to the Irish Film Board, and then here to the Huston School in Galway?
Rod Stoneman: I've never seen it as a career-more an unplanned succession of engagements ... I grew up in a provincial part of southwest England, in Torquay, Devon. I went to a minor public school in Somerset and then eventually on to do English literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, where I began to get more interested in film. I was also beginning to pick up the vibrations of the intellectual changes that were going on with the advent of French structuralism in the mid-70s in various parts of British culture, and particularly within British film culture.
I went from the University of Kent to the Slade Film School (which was part of the University College London) doing their two-year postgraduate degree, which had some filmmaking but was mostly film studies. Spending those two years seeing a lot of films, arguing, reading all the time, it was clear that what Robin Wood called "the felt effect of Screen" was at its height. Screen as a magazine and SEFT [Society for Education in Film and Television] as an organization were publishing pieces from Cahiers du Cinéma and bringing together that transient configuration of semiotics, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. British film culture had been pretty sleepy, untouched, cinephiliac, antiquarian even. Like throwing holy water on the devil-it had a big effect! The unexpected rigor of new film theory burst upon it, certainly ruffling some people's feathers and stirring up complacent institutions. In its way this was quite exhilarating, and I became involved in SEFT and Screen.
After my time at the Slade I went to run a small art-house cinema in Bristol, in a gallery and arts center called the Arnolfini. It was part of a combined art center wirn a gallery and bookshop and café, the usual art center stuff. I ran the cinema part of that and it was a fascinating and productive experience. I booked the films, wrote the blurbs, and took the money for the tickets, which given my lack of numeracy meant it never quite added up correctly for two consecutive days. Eventually other people made the box office take balance, by and large. The direct practical experience of exhibition for those two years was complementary to the other, more intellectual understandings of film culture I had been getting via the University of Kent and the Slade.
After working at the Arnolfini cinema I went up to London to work as the education officer in SEFT for a year, and at that time began to make film proposals to Channel 4 and also eventually to work for the new channel. I made an Arts Council film about Peter Kennard, a political photomontagist in England, and looking over his shoulder,John Heartfield in Germany. That was a forty-minute videotape. Then, as Channel 4 was being set up I became a consultant for it. As a freelance consultant I was working from outside and therefore without any conflict of interest was still able to make programs. I made one called Ireland: the Silent Voices [GB, 1983], which was about the British media and The Troubles, both documentary and fiction-the continuous history of censorship and banning, the truncation of voices that occurs interestingly enough both in fiction and, as is better known, in factual documentary production. …