“Cinema is magic in the service of dreams,” said Djibril Diop Mambéty, the acclaimed twentieth century Senegalese film director. He was right, and this is exactly why we need to start screening cinema in schools.

It has long been recognised that the arts are disproportionately the domain of the rich. Families earning less than the average income of £23,556 are significantly less likely to have children who: play a musical instrument, go to the theatre, attend an arts or crafts class, visit an arts museum or engage with other cultural activities.

In 2015, the Warwick Commission found that “higher social groups” accounted for 87% of visits to free museums and said that “levels of access and participation still comprehensively fail to reflect the rich diversity of our population.” None of this, sadly, is surprising.

However, there is surprisingly little said about the growing exclusivity of cinema. Currently, a trip to the local picture house is out of reach for many. At my local screen in Clapham, it would cost a family of two adults and two children £43.30 to see Friday morning’s screening of the new heart-warming film about Winnie-the-Pooh, ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin.’ That is prohibitively expensive for the average family.

This is a great shame. Films have the potential to be transformative, especially for children, and even more especially for those children not born into opportunity.

Films show the tapestry of life through another’s eyes. They transport you to different countries and continents and brilliant imagined lands beyond. Unconstrained by time, they traverse past, present and future, telling truths and stories. At their best, films show us something about ourselves.

I grew up in a middle class family, not poor but nor rich, my Mum a teacher and my Dad a small business owner. For us, films were a window to the world. I never went to the wild west, but I sat on my Dad’s lap and watched John Wayne. I’ve never visited Italy, but I’ve seen the gorgeous portrayal of its villages in Cinema Paradiso. We rarely caught the train up to London, but James Bond and Sherlock Holmes gave me a sense of the city’s brooding contours.

There is no reason why we shouldn’t be helping the next generation see through this window too.

The film industry is one of the great success stories of post-recession Britain. Star Wars, Bond and Disney’s new remake of Dumbo have all been headquartered here. Even since 2014, the value of the UK’s film, music and TV industries has grown by an astronomical 72.4% compared with 8.5% in the EU.

Part of what attracts the industry to our shores is the generous tax treatment the government offers them. In return, we should ask the studios to send their films to schools for them to screen for free.

The costs would be negligible. For the studios, the marginal expense of licensing digital copies of films to schools would literally be zero. For schools, every one of them already has a hall and a projector, and screening films is a cost-effective way of providing after-hours services. The Department for Culture, Media and Sports should build in these community commitments to every contract with studios, starting tomorrow. It requires no legislation, just common sense.

If we do that, we can create the magic of movies for the next generation, in service of the dreams they deserve.


Benjamin Clayton is a Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was previously Chief of Staff at the British Government’s National Infrastructure Commission.