Ross’s efforts are part of a larger struggle facing the British film world; despite several successes in the States, the industry remains hamstrung by limited public funds and a complex love-hate relationship with Hollywood. Ross notes that if a recent Film4 project such as Hunger, the critically acclaimed feature by artist Steve McQueen, had come out of France, it would have been a prime candidate for a foreign film Oscar, but as an English-language film it was competing against every major U.S. release. “When we make a film in English, Hollywood immediately judges it by its own standards,” she says. Still, according to director Kevin Macdonald, who worked with Ross on The Last King of Scotland as well as the upcoming The Eagle of the Ninth, Ross is one of the few movie executives who value a filmmaker’s point of view as much as the audience’s or her own. “She’s like an old-fashioned book editor,” Macdonald says. “She’s there to support the people she has decided are talented.” That approach, he adds, takes more courage than you may think: “Film4 are always the first people in—buying the book, developing the script. They’re the ones taking the risk.”
For now, Ross’s strategy is to continue developing a slate of mostly small, unique films that are, as she puts it, “not for the mainstream,” but that in rare cases may become megahits. In addition to The Lovely Bones, she has upcoming projects by such prestigious Film4 stalwarts as Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky); she also greenlighted Nowhere Boy, the first feature by artist Sam Taylor-Wood, and Submarine, the debut from comedian Richard Ayoade.
“Great people come out of the strangest places, with the weirdest of backgrounds, to make movies,” says Ross. “I know that the next great Oscar winner is probably not about slum kids in India, so the sensible thing is to be open to all possibilities.”