Monday 12 November 2001 at 7 pm
Speaker: Lord Puttnam (David Puttnam)
A summary of Lord Puttnam's speech and Lord Attenborough's introduction follows:
Lord Attenborough welcomed the audience to the second annual lecture at the Richard Attenborough Centre.
He introduced Lord Puttnam, reflecting on the many years of their friendship and paying tribute to David Puttnam's innovation in his films, such as Bugsy Malone, his sense of style and moral integrity in The Killing Fields, the Mission and Chariots of Fire. Lord Puttnam gave up making films to work through the House of Lords. He is chair of NESTA, an organisation he founded, as well as chair of the General Teaching Council, and his devotion to education is will known. Lord Attenborough also highlighted his integrity, loyalty and friendship.
Lord Puttnam responded and went on to say the last few years had seen great change in his life, moving from the film industry to politics and education.
In the globalised society in which we now live, he began, we need to raise our game. He believes globalisation is here to stay, and our shared ambition should be a move towards a truly sustainable society and economy. We need to help people on the margins of society, and here he commended the work of the Richard Attenborough Centre at the University of Leicester.
Lord Puttnam said that social justice comes from the public sector, when disaster strikes it is rescue workers in the public sector who are the first on the scene. Would the New York fireman, of whom 300 died, have been there so promptly if they had been employees of a private company? He doubted it. He chose as a role model the military, and pointed out that its public sector role made it the best agency for training personnel, leaving the private sector to provide the equipment. No one has ever suggested that a supplier of military equipment should lead a battalion to prove how good their kit is, he said.
He then went on to talk about the moral responsibility of film makers and artists, referring to the meeting in Los Angeles the previous evening, when the movie industry had been discussing how they could serve the war against terrorism and boost patriotism. Today most media moguls are more interested in their market share, he said. Moral responsibility is more complex and burdensome than delivering a message of patriotism. Cinema is the one true language, marking
personal moments in all our lives. I fear that over the past 20 years film makers have failed to tap the power of cinema, he said and talked about the very powerful images on television screens on 11 September. People had likened the terrorist attack to a movie and it certainly had the power to haunt our unconsciousness long after we had seen the pictures.
But movies pretend that events have no consequences, and the images we saw on 11 September had nothing but consequences which were changing the world. From the movies we would believe that we live in a world without consequences, in which violence is sufficient to itself and where virtue will always triumph in the end.
He talked of the film maker, Martin Scorsese, whose films are known for their violence. He is so gifted, Lord Puttnam said, But what do his films like Goodfellows say? This is a symptom of the malaise of our times, when sensation eclipses everything else.
He spoke of the complicity between the financier, film maker and actor, but said all of us are caught up in this, and that film makers need to regain a true sense of social responsibility, preferably by regulating themselves rather than through censorship. We must take responsibility for all of our own actions and appetites, he added and called for a more sensitive generation of film makers.
However, Lord Puttnam said, film makers often go into denial. The two great errors of artists, he continued, are to believe they can achieve everything or that they can achieve nothing.
Touching on the Internet, he said we are living at a time of immense technological change. There has been more scientific research in the last decade than during the rest of human history, and there is more technology in the average family saloon than in the first spacecraft. Moving images can be a significant force in the general good. But if we treat them as consumables then we are headed for a situation where they can damage society.
He added that crisis also presents opportunity and urged film makers to remember the social and moral impact movies can have, that they are not just passive images., that we need higher levels of critical and creative judgement. Remember that if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem, he quoted. Trash can be put into the market place at low cost, but truth has always taken longer and carries a higher price tag. It is our responsibility to ensure the right values prevail.
Widening the field to his new role in education, he added that the country needs investment in teachers and that the community has to accept the funding this requires. We have no choice if we are to succeed. You can put all the money you like into the public services, but it will not put everything right. Only a brilliant education system that supplies what these services need can do that, and we need to increase our spending on education. Otherwise we will be a second class nation.
Lord Puttnam concluded with a return to the meeting in Los Angeles and expressed his fear that the heads of the movie industry were not really asking themselves the kinds of questions on social responsibility that needed asking. He felt they were more concerned with the idea: How do we get out of this mess and still look good?
Following a lively question and answer session, Lord Attenborough announced that the Richard Attenborough Centre's hall was to be named the Diana Princess of Wales Hall, in recognition of the Princess's visit to formally open the Centre in 1997. He spoke briefly of the pleasure the visit had given students at the Centre and of the charitable interests he had shared with her.
Note to editors: Further information is available from the University of Leicester Press Office, telephone 0116 252 2415, email firstname.lastname@example.org or from Dr Eleanor Hartley, Director, Richard Attenborough Centre, telephone 0116 252 2455, email RACentre@le.ac.uk
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