David Hyndman talks to Rod Stoneman the former Deputy Editor of Independent Film & Video at Channel 4 and former CEO of the Irish Film Board, about his childhood in Devon, his participation in grassroots avant-garde film making and his thoughts on the film and television industry.
Rod recalls the television of his youth as that “epoch of a very paternalistic version of broadcasting.” On the television Rod watched in his youth he comments that, “early British television was a version of public service television, that was a context which introduced me to television in a way that provided useful material and part of the framework for growing up culturally.”
Rod’s interest in film intensified when he moved to Kent to study English Literature at university where he was introduced to new and radical ways of making and watching films though association with the Canterbury Film Theatre and the student film society. “By the time I was leaving I was seeing a lot of film and therefore it became logical to try and go somewhere where I could do film properly.”
Rod found a creative and critically reflective space working, as Deputy Editor of Independent Film & Video for Channel 4. “It was a project to do a serious widening of the diversity of what was available on British television.”
Rod discusses Derek Jarman’s Blue in which BBC Radio 3 and prime time Channel 4 cooperated on a radical film, with no ad breaks. “It is absolutely and entirely out of the question that it could be transmitted publicly on any known television. There is no question of large scale television turning the screens over to a project like Blue.”
A change of remit in Channel 4 resulted in Rod becoming formally engaged with independent film movements in Northern Ireland. He also directed the documentary series Ireland: The Silent Voices which dealt with mainstream media’s approach to representing the conflict in Northern Ireland. “Overall it did offer something of a critique of the censorship, the ideological use of dubious terms. Support for direct speech was one way of countering the gaps and omissions and censorships of British television.”
Rod left Channel 4 for new challenges in Ireland at the Irish Film Board.
“I transposed the same idea and approach that I learned in Channel 4… radical pluralism… that what we have to do is set a wide range of types of film and types of film making in action. The left version of radical pluralism is that, if you run a whole series of different versions of films and ideas about the world, rationality will prevail.”
The diversity in films produced during Rod’s tenure with the Irish Film Board wasn’t restricted to film genre, “it’s also a vertical diversity about low budget non-commercial filmmaking vis a vis medium to high budget. Nearly all the films had some level of other money in them and in many cases that did bring the market into projects.”
On contemporary Irish film and it’s attempt to make critical reflections on society, Rod believes less risks are taken, much less supported. “I think we are in a very risk adverse culture now and that clearly limits the range and diversity of what is made.”
Today, Rod is employed with the Houston School of Digital Media with the aim of diversifying the teaching approach to film students, “we show them wider choices, they see different ways of doing things, experimental films, films from Africa, Asia and Latin America. We put on DVDs of stuff we showed on Channel 4 and generally they can’t believe it was on television.”