It is reported in the Birmingham Post today that Birmingham City Council are looking to sponsor a proposed ‘media festival’ to the tune of at least £150,000.
The festival, planned for 2008, apparently hopes to show Birmingham residents ‘futuristic film screenings, interactive games and new technologies’ and is designed to replace the abandoned International Film & Television Festival, an event we can only assume was proving unpopular.
Birmingham City Council aren’t by any means the only ones throwing taxpayers’ money into the pot either, Advantage West Midlands are already committed to matching their investment and the organisers hope that the other bodies involved in the festival’s development – Screen WM, Arts Council WM, Marketing Birmingham and Business Link WM – are also likely to become primary funders, on top of the cost of the man hours they've already dedicated to the project. Suzie Norton, chief executive of Screen West Midlands states that, “This has been a collaboration so, we hope, all those involved will be prepared to invest”.
For all the agencies queuing up to ‘invest’ taxpayers’ money you might reasonably assume that the plans for the festival point to a sure-fire winner, but in reality the pay off from this investment is still pretty unclear. Birmingham seems set on the idea of cultivating an international festival at any cost, and seemingly regardless of what the festival celebrates.
Ideas being bandied around for this ‘media festival’ are fairly ambiguous, including “having short clips and programme information ‘beamed down’ to laptops and mobile phones” (which really just sounds like the internet), and perhaps more off-the-wall is the idea that there will be “interactive games that will take people round key city landmarks and bring them archive film footage, reviving the ghosts of the city’s founders”. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.
So many organisations, so many man hours, so much of taxpayers’ money – could it all be worth it? What could be the long-term benefit, and perhaps more pertinently, given the fate of the previous international festival it replaces, what could be the cost?
International Festivals put in place to promote the area on the regailed ‘global stage’ are not to be criticised – they could potentially attract business and investment to the area. This being the case surely those who are likely to benefit the most from this, namely local business and enterprise, should be called upon to cover the majority of the costs and like any investment, take the financial blow if it doesn’t work out?
Instead we have a queue of quangos, desperate for something to do and with our money burning a hole in their pockets. Those behind any business sponsorship have a vested interest in making it work, but local quangos can happily sweep it under the carpet and move on to the next expensive publicly funded project after making their excuses.
There is no telling whether this Internation Media festival will be a success, but as costs escalate and public investment soars it is in all of our interests to monitor what exactly our money is being spent on.