Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Slumdog: Trailblazer or one off?

By Clare Walmsley
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

On the face of it, Slumdog Millionaire was an unlikely best picture winner for the often-conservative Academy voters.

It is set in India, it is frequently subtitled from Hindi and it was not made by a Hollywood studio.

Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as a young Jamal
Slumdog counters graphic scenes and child abuse with a romantic plot
It was almost a straight to DVD movie after the company releasing it was closed down. And on Oscar night it became the first fully British-funded film to win best picture since 1949.

So what is behind its phenomenal success - and is it breaking new ground in the film world?

Empire magazine's features editor Dan Jolin thinks not.

"A lot of people are down about the recession, the time was right for a film to come along and tell a rags-to-riches story," he says.

"Sure it had dark edges to it but at its heart it's a very feel-good, fairytale film.

"The film it was primarily up against, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was a film about death whereas Slumdog Millionaire was a film about getting the girl and several million rupees."

New breed

UK Film Council chairman Stewart Till agrees that the film chimed with the mood of the times, particularly in an optimistic post-Obama America. But he thinks the film's success is the result of a new breed in the British industry.

"There's a generation of producers and writers that understand that films cost millions of pounds and so to be marketed they will need to be commercial and work on a worldwide basis," he explains.

"I think there's a real competitive commercialism that they have and they're less intimidated by Hollywood than they were 15 years ago."

Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto

I think there's something Disney-esque in its central conceit

Dan Jolin, Empire magazine

Slumdog Millionaire's writer Simon Beaufoy said the film demonstrates "there are more important things than money". But its success - it cost 7m to make and has taken 100m worldwide - is encouraging backers to shell out for similar films.

"Financing looks for and chases success," says Stewart Till.

"There's the sense that British films are more successful than they have been in living memory, so that will help."

'Black clouds'

But on the front line of film-making, there are different views.

Director Mike Newell, who is currently working on big-budget film Prince of Persia, also runs his own production company.

He agrees that Slumdog's success might encourage a bit more risk taking on very cheap films - but warns one good night at the Oscars cannot counteract the global downturn.

"For bigger budget films, things are getting trickier," he explains. "There were black clouds on the horizon which simply moved in and stayed."

"Some will slide through, but it tends to make the big financiers more conservative," he adds.

"Those problems are now coming home to roost in very intimate ways.

"People that we all know are struggling and not coming out on the right side of the fight. Lots of small companies are under extreme pressure and are simply going down."

'Hollywood in disguise'

Slumdog Millionaire's director Danny Boyle has made it clear he does not think one film's success can do too much for the British film industry.

But he thinks there's been a shift in Hollywood attitudes to smaller, independent films.

"What the Academy has done is they've turned round at the end of this terrible year for indie distribution and they've gone, 'here's an indie film, we'll give it eight of our top awards'," he says.

"And that sends a signal.

"The industry's clearly decided to say that those small independent films are as important as the huge ones."

Slumdog producer Christian Colson adds: "I think this is a symptom of how Hollywood's beginning to embrace a more-globalized view of the world."

But Empire's Dan Jolin disagrees.

"There's an argument that Slumdog is a Hollywood movie in disguise," he says.

"I think there's something Disney-esque in its central conceit. I genuinely don't think its a sign of any long term opening of minds. I just think right place, right time."

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