In an exclusive interview with Screen Africa, Tom Brook, internationally renowned
and respected movie critic, film journalist and presenter of BBC World’s long-
running show, Talking Movies, shares some of his views on film and the future of
cinema with readers.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO FILM JOURNALISM AND WHAT SPARKED YOUR
INTEREST IN MOVIES?
One big help was getting a good start in the business by getting accepted on
the news trainee programme operated by the BBC many moons ago. It provided
basic training in all aspects of broadcast journalism – and that included several
working attachments in different parts of the BBC. It was invaluable.
But passion always plays a big role in career development and I really like what I
do. One thing that I think is important for any journalist is having self-doubt
whenever you’re doing a story – if you get too certain about the way things are
you can end up making mistakes.
I got into film journalism accidentally. I was trained as a news journalist – but in
the early 1980s I found I had to freelance to make a living and the only
opportunities were in the areas of arts and entertainment – and that of course
included film. So I took the plunge.
Certainly there were many, many film moments that I remember from my early
years – there was Cliff Richard in a British summer movie called Summer Holiday
which made a big impression on me – so did Bette Davis in Whatever Happened
to Baby Jane – but these are memories going back decades – I keep getting
inspired by newer film moments, which is great.
PLEASE ELABORATE ON YOUR BEGINNINGS AT TALKING MOVIES AND
HOW THE SHOW HAS “EVOLVED’ SINCE YOU STARTED PRESENTING IT IN 1999?
Talking Movies began as a six-week experiment by the head of the BBC’s all-
news channel in February 1999. Something went right because the programme
is still here 15 years later – and I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to present
every edition since we first went on the air.
When we began, we were much more Hollywood focused and we reported on
the movie landscape through the prism of Hollywood. That’s changed. We’re
much more global.
We don’t ignore Hollywood but we cover cinema across the continents. In recent
times the show has travelled to Brazil, Singapore and France.
We’re now aiming to be a global programme trying to serve our audiences
who’re interested in not just the latest Hollywood releases but also cinema from
their own national film industry.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT TRENDS IN FILM INTERNATIONALLY?
One trend is that the US studios are deriving more and more of their revenue
from audiences outside North America. So far this has led to a dumbing down of
movies because the conventional wisdom has been that the simpler the concept
the easier it will be to sell internationally.
What I hope will happen is that Hollywood will start catering to the international
audience more intelligently by incorporating actors, filmmakers and screenwriters
for their films who come from outside Hollywood’s backyard – in other words, I
hope they will draw on a global talent pool, which could lead to some interesting
SO MANY PEOPLE PREDICT THE END OF “CINEMA’ AS AN EXPERIENCE.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY TRUTH IN THAT?
I hope this doesn’t happen – I love going to the cinema! I think more and more
people will be drawn to viewing online or video on demand (VOD), but I think the
cinema will stay around a while as a showcase for certain “event’ films. For
instance, I can’t imagine not seeing a film like Gravity in a cinema.
WHAT ARE THE MOST EXCITING CHANGES IN FILM THAT YOU’VE
NOTICED DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS; AND WHAT DO YOU PREDICT WILL
HAPPEN IN THE INTERNATIONAL FILM MARKET OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
Obviously the arrival of 3D has been very exciting but I think it works best when
it’s not used as a gimmick: Life of Pi and Gravity being good examples.
Another exciting development are alternative forms of movie distribution
emerging, so people don’t have to rely on cinemas to get their films out – they
can use a variety of online methods.
In terms of the future of the international film market I don’t quite know what
will happen, but China will be playing a very big role – it’s been building cinemas
at a very rapid rate and audiences are hungry for film content – so China will be
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF INDIE FILMS?
Indie films have never really gone away but in the last few years it’s been tough
for them – basically the old business model is broken – I noticed this at
Sundance this year. It used to be that someone would come in and buy an indie
film for a lot of money and distribute it in cinemas – that doesn’t happen.
But the good thing is that people are coming in – they’re buying them for less
money and they’re ending up being seen in different ways – not necessarily in a
cinema. So I think there’s a bit of hope that a new business model may be
DO YOU THINK AUDIENCES STILL VALUE A TRADITIONALLY WELL-TOLD
Yes – a well-told story is very much respected by the audience – they feel
nourished and inspired and it makes the world of difference to have a great
SCRIPTWRITING IS CRUCIAL TO FILMMAKING. DO YOU THINK THERE ARE
ENOUGH STRONG STORIES EMERGING WORLDWIDE?
No, there aren’t enough good stories – we need to tap into different cultures. I
was in Singapore and India in recent months – there were great filmmakers in
both countries telling very strong stories. We need to get their work out onto
the world stage.
CONSIDERING DOCUMENTARIES, IS THERE A REVIVAL INTERNATIONALLY
IN TERMS OF QUALITY OF CONTENT AND STORYTELLING ABILITY?
Yes – there’s definitely a revival – and the storytelling is getting better and
better – take a look at The Act of Killing, which is a highly original and ingenious
attempt to understand what goes on inside the minds of people who slaughter.
IS THERE A FAVOURITE INTERVIEW THAT STANDS OUT THROUGH THE
YEARS; WITH WHOM AND WHY?
Yes, interviewing Bette Davis was amazing. She totally intimidated me. I was
young and as one member of the cast put it she made “mincemeat’ out of me.
She had a lot of spunk – and I admired that – and I’ve always thought about
that encounter. She was also a fantastic actress.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE DIRECTORS, INTERNATIONALLY, THAT YOU
REGARD AS EXCEPTIONAL, AND WHY?
Iranian filmmaker and director Asghar Farhadi (The Past, A Separation, About
Elly, Fireworks Wednesday) and British director and writer Mike Leigh (Mr Turner,
Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies, Naked) who are
both great storytellers and good observers of human relationships.