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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Support agencies and art colleges missed a trick

WAY BACK IN 2002, an American developmental economist called Richard Florida published a book called The Rise of the Creative Class which argued that the presence of artists, musicians, and other 'bohemians' in a city create a climate which is highly conducive to the development of high technology and other innovative businesses, and he quoted cities such as Boston and San Francisco as examples of this effect.

Scottish Enterprise was so impressed with this thesis that they flew Professor Florida to Scotland to give a talk to an invited audience in a Glasgow hotel. I attended this meeting and was suitably impressed. Clearly, this belief in the development of a high level of creative activity as part of general economic development was being seen as a sensible approach.

Meanwhile, a talented French filmmaker called Sylvain Chomet brought his feature Belleville Rendez-vous to the 2002 Edinburgh International Film Festival where it was enthusiastically received. It went on to win two Oscar nominations and, as a result, Chomet won development funding for two new films, one from Pathe and one from Universal.

Chomet was so impressed with his visit to Edinburgh that, somewhat incredibly, he decided to move here and set up his studio, Django Films, to develop these films.

You might think Scottish Enterprise, with the words of Professor Florida ringing in their ears, would welcome Chomet with open arms - this was a real grown-up animation studio, employing dozens of artists, headed by an Oscar-nominated director.

Chomet reports that Scottish Enterprise could only help if he set up his studio on an industrial park near the airport; Chomet's wish to base his studio in the centre of Edinburgh - in line with Florida's thesis - could not be supported.

He also contacted various art schools, including the Edinburgh College of Art, to find new recruits for his studio but was disappointed with what he saw. The art colleges were unwilling to train their students in the methods actually used by the animation industry, preferring their own academic methods. His Oscar nominations cut no ice with them.

Chomet claims the lack of meaningful support from Scottish Enterprise was a significant factor in the studio losing the film which had been commissioned by Universal, The Tale of Despereaux, which was then made elsewhere.

The other film commissioned by Pathe, The Illusionist, was based on a script by Jacques Tati, in which the leading character, a travelling magician, goes to Prague. Chomet decided to switch the action to Edinburgh where the bulk of the film is now set.

The finished product is a tourist board dream - the city has never looked better, with spectacular views of the winding streets under the castle, and Arthur's Seat towering above it all. It goes on general release from August 20 and is not to be missed.

You might think such a superb showcase for our beautiful capital city would attract funding from Scottish Screen, our national film agency, but, once again, you would be wrong. No Scottish Screen money was forthcoming.

Sylvain Chomet has now given up his attempt to build a leading animation studio in Edinburgh and has moved his family and his film-making activity to Provence. We had our chance and we 'blew it'.

Richard Florida has a vision that promoting creative activities in a city creates a climate that supports a wide range of economic development. The lack of support from Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Screen and the art colleges have ensured that, in this case, here in Scotland, this dream remains an 'illusion'.

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