There is an oft repeated Winston Churchill quote that when confronted with the demand to cut arts funding during World War II, the Prime Minister refused and responded “Then what are we fighting for?”. Unfortunately Churchill never said this but that hasn’t stopped lazy people from cut and pasting it all over social media sites in an effort to sound profound. In reality, the arts are usually the first thing on the chopping block when times are tough economically. The documentary “Making the Cut” follows the fallout to the community of Taunton after The Brewhouse arts center, the only one of its kind in the Southwest England town, is shuttered after funding is cut.
Filmmakers Emma Holbrook and Susannah Mo sit down and let the local artists and technicians who helped run The Brewhouse plead their case for its importance. They make it clear that there is nothing frivolous about the arts and without a place for it in the community, we risk never exposing children to music, comedy, or live theater. The filmmakers do an admirable job of illustrating how damaging it can be to the rest of the economy when these institutions falter and are forced to close. Unfortunately for the film, the discussion of community arts centers doesn’t make for a captivating documentary. They can be bastions of painful sketch comedy, amateur Shakespeare, and children’s ukulele classes. At 42 minutes, the documentary plays more like an educational piece that should draw interest in its hometown but doesn’t have much impact anywhere else due to its narrow focus. Their argument isn’t bolstered as the film profiles Bristol’s own Tobacco Factory as an example of an arts center which has been able to thrive.
There is no villain or dark agenda at the heart of The Brewhouse’s closing. It is simply that people now have been so spoiled by instant on demand access to any entertainment imaginable from their homes that some arts centers just aren’t sustainable. It’s a shame that people with good intentions who want to share their gifts with the community are unable to do so, but their frustration doesn’t elevate the film above a glorified news story. To make this film even more inert, we are informed at the end of the doc (via text on a black screen) that The Brewhouse reopened 15 months after it closed.
Despite being misattributed, The Churchill quote is no less important. Everything we do means nothing if we lose the ability to express ourselves through art or make a connection to others. Artists do need to start fighting or risk having their stage taken away. This well intentioned documentary profiles a case where they were fortunate enough to be given it back.