“British Arrows” Returns to MFAH Films November 12, 2018

The British Arrows, a compilation of the year’s most innovative and creative commercials from the United Kingdom, returns to our big screen Thanksgiving weekend! Always popular with Houston audiences, the British Arrows awards are even more of a hallmark film screening for our friends in Minneapolis at the Walker Art Center, which has shown British Arrows for more than three decades.

I spoke with my colleague, Sheryl Mousley, senior curator of the moving image at the Walker, about the allure of these charming adverts, which screen in Houston over two weekends, November 23–25 and December 1–2.

How does British Arrows make it across the pond?
Every year, the British Arrows awards are announced at a stunning ceremony at the Battersea Evolution site in London. The British Arrows team in London then provides the winning ads to us here at the Walker Art Center. A show reel is created with the top winners, and the reel becomes the program shown at the Walker and other sites on the tour, including the MFAH.

Do you see a connection between the British Arrows and independent filmmaking?
I always watch for work by filmmakers I recognize, especially if I have shown their films at Walker—those who bridge feature filmmaking and creating an award-winning British ad. This year, Andrea Arnold (American Honey, Fish Tank, Red Road) won a Gold Arrow for the ad Youth Can Do It.

Do you have any personal favorites from the 2018 selection of commercials?
One of my favorites is the Gold-winning Marmite commercial because of its humor—anyone who has tasted Marmite can identify with being a lover or hater!

One distinctive part of the program is the inclusion of public service announcements, or PSAs. In the United States, the FCC requirement for broadcast television to show PSAs disappeared a while ago, but they’re still created and shown in the United Kingdom—some of the best British Arrows submissions fit in this category. The PSA about stealing equipment from hospital patients, as a way to represent those not paying their taxes, is haunting. And the look at migrant sports teams is uplifting.

American audiences seem to love British culture, from the British Arrows to our exhibition Tudors to Windsors. Why do you think the British Arrows have caught on stateside?
Yes, there does seem to be a fascination! Unlike the U.S. ads that often have a hard sell (“Buy my product”), some of the British ads almost make you have to ask yourself, “What was the product they were selling?” Instead, the ads offer a look into daily life in the United Kingdom.

We’ve heard that the Arrows are a sensation at the Walker, and we have a group of fans who faithfully attend each year. Do you have memories of any particularly faithful attendees?
In 2016, when we were celebrating our 30th anniversary of showing British Arrows, we discovered that one audience member had attended every single year—they won a prize bottle of champagne for that! Coming to the Walker to see the British advertising awards has become a tradition, now passing on to the next generation. The number of screenings continues to increase, with some offering accessible features such as ASL interpretation and closed captioning. The cinema full of people laughing together makes you feel at home.

View the 2018 winners of the British Arrows, November 23–December 2! See showtimes and get tickets.

About the Interviewee
Sheryl Mousley is senior curator of the moving image at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where she creates contemporary media exhibition programs including a year-round slate of feature films, retrospectives, and artist-made cinema.