'The film industry is a flagship of our creative industries. To strengthen the consultative framework for communication with the industry, we will set up a film development board to take stock of the present state, opportunities and challenges of the local film industry before charting a development course and drawing up a clear action plan.' Policy address THE SQUEAKY WHEEL gets the grease again. Even before the Chief Executive made his policy address on Wednesday, the film industry managed to prise loose some more money for itself. On Monday, the government announced that it had reactivated a Film Development Fund and invited applications for the $20 million allocated to it. The following day, a separate entity, the Film Guarantee Fund, announced a $2.625 million loan guarantee to Mandarin Films for its latest film project. It is not much money but assistance to the film industry in particular raises the question of just how much the government takes to heart its supposed principle of 'market leads, government facilitates', one that Donald Tsang Yam-kuen reiterated in his speech. Why should any assistance be offered to the film industry at all? There are two arguments made for it. The first is that the local film industry has gone through a bad patch since 1997. Costs have risen while, by some accounts, cinema attendances at Chinese-language films fell by as much as half in 2003 from their 1997 levels and recovery has been slow. The second argument is that Hong Kong still has a slight touch of unfortunate reputation abroad as a cultural desert and this is an undeserved reputation. A little government assistance might go some way to correcting it. But neither argument addresses the fact that creative expression never really thrives on public subsidy. Artists may want the money but their art invariably suffers when they get it. Good art is always a little revolutionary in character. It is a leading expression of where any society is taking itself. It surprises, it sometimes shocks and its great value lies in unusual ways of revealing new ideas or new perspective on old truths, which society gradually comes to recognise as a good reflection of itself. Government is exactly the opposite. It is not even a little revolutionary in character. It does not lead society. It follows society. It recoils from surprise and shock and it reflects only the most conventional views of where society stands. Mix the two and what you get is art expressed only in its most outward forms - the number of culture bunkers built, their seating capacity and the number of events staged. In short, what you get is a desert, lots of space for new ideas to flourish but none of them to be found there. Yesterday's ideas alone are expressed. It is an inevitable result and is so wherever you go. The art industry may protest otherwise but then the art industry is industry, not art. It deals in money. Artists themselves do not need money as the art industry does. They need to be left alone. If what they do strikes a chord with the public, they may also strike it rich but then the art produced the money, not the money the art. There is only one similarity between the two. As bad coin drives out good coin so bad art drives out good art and government sponsored art is indeed mostly bad art, or at least dull art. The winners are those who are good at applying for government subsidies. Real artistic expression withers. If it is true that local films are suffering from poor cinema attendances, then it is time for local film producers to consider what their audiences are instead doing to satisfy their thirst for cultural expression. Those audiences certainly will be doing something. The human condition has not changed. It may not be film as classically defined but then too bad for classical definition. Whatever it is it will not be found with government money. This will only go to what was found in the past. Government is not able to do otherwise. And if some people think that Hong Kong is a cultural desert, the one sure guarantee of making it so is to have government organise the search for getting out of the desert. The only course that a film development board can chart is one that goes in circles. Artists are not normally people who espouse free market causes, which is ironic when you consider that it is their work which best exemplifies the value of a free market. Give it to them, Mr Tsang. You do best here if you stay away completely. I CONFESS TO a howler. In yesterday's column I said agriculture and fisheries are not represented in the Legislative Council. Wrong. They have a functional constituency seat. Ouch.