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Film is all about different ideas and cultures

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: July 25, 2013

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Let's be honest – we British are a pretty insular bunch, aren't we? We don't like things to be different.

We expect the rest of the world to speak English (because we're famously bad at languages.)

We like holidays abroad, but only if we can be near an English pub which serves fish and chips and has football on TV.

It's as though we think 'our' way of life should be inviolate and there is nothing to be learned from anyone else.

A recent interview with Martin Hill, Leader of the County Council, in which he spoke about the threat posed by immigrants to what he called 'our culture', perfectly illustrated this point of view.

I imagine Councillor Hill's reference to culture means things like historic buildings, character, tradition, and landscape, stuff that appeals to his core constituency. It's what Lincolnshire in general and Lincoln in particular has in abundance.

But it's only one form of culture, isn't it? Consider the recent news that Lincoln is one of three county towns identified as being a 'crap' place to live.

If you're a 20-something, will you rate Lincoln as a must-visit destination for the cathedral, the castle and the Magna Carta (what most people would say are its main attractions)?

I doubt it. My 20-something daughter who is at university elsewhere in the UK, wanted to study anywhere but Lincoln because "I've lived here all my life so far and I find it boring" (her words.) Her age group wants a different form of culture altogether.

Her view is not the truth, any more than Martin Hill's is. They represent a personal truth, seen from their individual perspectives.

But each of them point to something that I think is a truth – that it is important to be open to other experiences, beliefs and opinions, so that we can become better informed. That way, we make progress and avoid bias and prejudice.

What has all this to do with film? Well, the whole point about this column and Film Society is that both try to promote a world of cinema that is not from 'our culture' – to use Martin Hill's phrase.

They encourage people to watch films from other countries which express different ideas and insights, so that they can become better informed.

For instance, I went to see a film called 'Wadjda' last week. It was interesting for a number of reasons: it was produced and filmed in Saudi Arabia (where there are no cinemas); it was directed by a Saudi-born woman (women's rights are notoriously limited in the country) and it was about a young girl whose ambition was to buy a bike so that she could race a friend (girls are discouraged from such activities because they are considered immoral).

I know a little about Saudi Arabia. I'm aware that it is a monarchy, that Sharia law is the basis of the judicial system, that women are not allowed to drive or show their faces in public.

I know Osama bin Laden came from the country, that it's got fabulous oil wealth and that Islam is the religion. What I don't know is the extent to which the information I have is stereotypical.

I wanted a different perspective. I hoped the film would give me the opportunity to acquire one.

Now, just as I pointed out above that my daughter's view of Lincoln is not the truth, I acknowledge straight away that a feature film is probably the most subjective medium possible.

You get to see what the director wants you to see. You have no idea what is left in the editing suite. You can't even be sure that what you are watching happens in the places shown on the screen (there's a famous 1978 conspiracy thriller from the USA called Capricorn One, in which all the TV footage of a manned expedition to Mars turns out to be a hoax, with all the action taking place in a studio set).

So I came to 'Wadjda' with the knowledge that I was only watching a partial truth at best.

Did I learn anything new? I can't be sure. Some of the things I was aware of were evident in the film. I also saw things I hadn't considered: that Saudi girls want to be like girls everywhere, wearing jeans and trainers and decorating themselves with body art.

They dislike the authority of parents and teachers and rebel against it. Home life was shown to be very similar to home life in Britain.

Has this changed my understanding of the country? Is my attitude towards it any different now that I have seen a representation of life there? I can't say at the moment.

What I can say is that the film has given me a better appreciation of the ideas and beliefs – the culture – that underpin society there. I feel as though there has been a shift in my point of view which enables me to see things as Saudi people see them.

I now feel better informed.

Showing at The Venue

Star Trek: Into Darkness (12a) – July 26, 7.30pm

Family Film Club: Chimpanzee (U) – July 27, 2.30pm

Star Trek: Into Darkness (12a) – July 27, 7.30pm

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