"Great cinema is when you surprise the audience. And maybe, sometimes even surprise yourself."
Lord Puttnam has been fascinated by moving images ever since he started going to the cinema as a young boy in North London in the 1950s. The moral narratives of the movies he watched at that time (such as On the Waterfront) have left a lasting impact on his entire attitude towards film-making.
He strongly believes in the power of cinema to effect its audience on a personal level but also it’s ability to influence society more broadly. In the past, he has argued that ‘every single movie has within it an element of propaganda’meaning whether it be a malign or a benign message, the audience will always walk away from a film influenced in one way or another.
Thus, when lecturing and teaching, Lord Puttnam consistently emphasizes the need for film-makers to be aware of their responsibility to their audience: of course a film should entertain, but it should also aspire to enrich and enlighten.
When working as a producer, Lord Puttnam involves himself in every aspect of the film-making process, from the script-writing and casting to the editing and musical arrangement. He has enjoyed a great deal of critical acclaim for his films – together they have won 10 Oscars, 13 Golden Globes, 31 BAFTAS, nine Emmys, four David di Donatellos in Italy and the Palme D’Or at Cannes.
However, as well as making movies, he has dedicated the past forty years to encouraging and promoting the film industry in Britain, acting as the Chair of the National Film and Television School from 1987 to 1996, and as Vice President and Chair of Trustees at the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) from 1994 to 2004.
He is a Fellow of the British Film Institute, received a BAFTA fellowship in 2006 and has been President of the Film Distributors Association in the UK since 2007.
As the first European to run a Hollywood studio (Columbia Pictures, 1986-1988) and as a current lecturer in Film Studies at both Lasalle College of Arts in Singapore and Griffith Film School in Brisbane, Australia, Lord Puttnam has a unique perspective on the world’s film industry.
In particular, he is interested in the complicated relationship between the Hollywood marketing system and independent cinema, between European cinema and movies in the USA, and most of all between the viewer and the screen. In 1997, he published The Undeclared War (entitled Movies and Money in the USA), a history of the economic, cultural and ideological battles between Hollywood and the rest of the world from the beginning of the twentieth century.
As new and influential markets emerge in Asia, as technology changes the ways in which the medium is consumed and as film fans increasingly lean towards franchise models, Lord Puttnam is more dedicated than ever to cinema that is valuable and enduring. In 2010, as Chairman of the Jury at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, he said:
Cinema is, or certainly ought to be, the one true international language reaching out and touching the hearts and the minds of its audiences throughout the world.
Writing in Movies and Money, 1997
At its best, cinema has always been universal, always accessible, always at the cutting edge of popular concerns. But, from its earliest beginnings, its real magic has been its ability to conjure up and sustain the dreams of ordinary men and women.
At the turn of the new millennium the human race needs those dreams as much as at any time in its history.
The question is, do we have the ambition to seek a new and more sustainable dream, and do we have the determination to achieve it?