The arts diary: Brave and desperate

A still from the Oscar-winning animation Brave. Picture: Disney/Pixar
A still from the Oscar-winning animation Brave. Picture: Disney/Pixar
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“IF pro-union Scots can’t even be happy when a kids’ film based in Scotland wins an Oscar, I really don’t know what a No vote represents,” tweeted political blogger Jeff Breslin this week – one of numerous salvos in an ill-tempered independence row prompted by Brave’s victory at the Academy Awards.

“It is absolutely fantastic to see Merida and the gang continue to fly the flag for Scotland,” had been Alex Salmond’s response to the news, prompting derision from pro-union Scot (and regular Scotsman contributor) Alex Massie. “There’s something desperate, something dispiriting, about pretending that (Brave’s) success owes anything significant to its setting,” wrote Massie in a Spectator blog titled ‘Brave, the Oscars and the Scottish cringe’. “If Brave is a “Scottish film” then the latest version of Les Miserables is a triumph of French cinema. Somehow, however, I doubt Francois Hollande felt the need to associate himself with that sprawling mess. The French have no need to debase themselves in such a fashion.” Cue a furious debate on Twitter, in which Massie was accused of “sneering” and “hating anything which points to Scottish pride”.

Where do I stand on this? Somewhere in the middle. Comparing Brave to Les Miserables is a little sneaky. Brave may not be a “Scottish film”, but, unlike Les Miserables (or Brigadoon, which Massie also mentions), all its stars are from the country in which it is set. Given Hollywood’s numerous crimes against the Scottish accent over the years, that’s a welcome mark of respect. It’s also testament to the relatively recent success of a swathe of Scottish actors, from Craig Ferguson to Kelly Macdonald – cast, importantly, not just because they were Scots, but because they’re internationally renowned. If Pixar had tried to make Brave with American actors, it would have had a chillier reaction here (think How To Train Your Dragon, which had supporting Scots but an American hero, and prompted little fuss).

Also, it’s Pixar, the world’s greatest animation studio (apart from Studio Ghibli). Is it an honour to have Pixar set an entire story here? Call me desperate if you like, Alex Massie, but yes it is. The only other non-Americans granted that privilege are Australia (Finding Nemo) and France (Ratatouille).

On the other hand, if anything brings out the cultural cringe in me it’s our First Minister talking like a children’s TV presenter. “Merida and the gang?” Seriously?

A creative question

Good news from Creative Scotland. Yes, really. Beginning in Dundee on 15 March, our national arts funding body is hosting a series of “open sessions”, at which people working in the arts can help reshape the organisation following the well-publicised disasters of last year. “A collaborative and respectful relationship between Creative Scotland and those we are here to serve is a necessity in order to ensure that the arts, screen and creative industries continue to thrive,” says the website, “It is clear that, in the first two years of Creative Scotland’s existence, this has not been successfully achieved across all sectors we work with.”

Now, Creative Scotland wants “to hear directly from those we are here to support”, and will be doing so in Dundee, Edinburgh, Greenock, Inverness, Skye, Dumfries, Glasgow and Aberdeen, until the end of April (see the website for dates and venues). The sessions will be chaired by Pat Kane. Please resist the temptation to sneak Hue and Cry references into your questions.

I have one question: given that this is the same timetable for appointing Creative Scotland’s new chief executive (which, I assume, will involve some sort of job description), how much influence will the later sessions, in particular, actually have? Wanted: a visionary arts boss who is prepared to accept an important, high-profile new job, then potentially have their job description tinkered with by last-minute input from, say, a couple of folk in Aberdeen. Pat, do you think this is a “programme of change” or a costly PR exercise? Put another way, is this a Labour of Love, or will we be Seduced and Abandoned? Sorry.