30 November 2010

New address for bfiwatch

BFIwatch, along with its post archive, has moved to:

The blog at http://bfiwatch.blogspot.com will no longer be updated, though it will remain online for a short period.

More on agencies involved in funding British cinema

From the Guardian yesterday:

British Film Institute to take over from UK Film Council
BFI will distribute lottery money to film-makers, the culture minister Ed Vaizey announces

Mark Brown, Arts correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 29 November 2010 19.22 GMT

The British Film Institute will distribute lottery money to film-makers from next year, ministers announced today, ending – they hope – an acrimonious row that even prompted Clint Eastwood to write a concerned letter to the chancellor.

The government revealed its plan to abolish the 10-year-old UK Film Council in July. Even those who sympathised with the decision criticised the lack of a plan for who would take over.

Today the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, tried to alleviate those worries by announcing the BFI would take on most of the UKFC's functions apart from the task of encouraging inward investment, which would be in the hands of Film London.

Vaizey said the BFI would have to "change fundamentally" to be "more able to realise an exciting vision of a coherent, joined-up film industry".

It will be responsible not only for heritage and education, but for helping the production, exhibition and distribution of new British films.

In a speech at Bafta's headquarters in London, Vaizey said the intention was to build on the already considerable achievements of the British film industry. "Despite the success, we cannot be complacent," he said. "The goal of a sustainable, independent British film industry remains as elusive as ever."

The BFI immediately announced a rise in the money available for new films in the coming year from £15m to £18m, made possible by the cut in overhead costs because of the film council's abolition.

More than a year ago the Labour government planned to merge the BFI with the film council, with the BFI as junior partner. Today's announcement, a merger in all but name, puts the BFI in charge.

Its chairman, Greg Dyke, said: "It makes sense for there to be a single voice for film in this country - and that's going to be us." He added: "We can certainly do it significantly cheaper ... how much cheaper, we don't know yet. The UK Film Council carried quite a large overhead."
There are still lots of questions. How much bigger will the BFI have to become? How much more money will it get? How many film council staff will transfer? Vaizey said he expected a detailed transfer plan to be sorted in the new year.

He reaffirmed that lottery funding for film would rise from £27m to more than £40m by 2014 and said there were no plans to change the tax credit scheme which has encouraged Hollywood studios to make films in the UK.

Vaizey praised Channel 4 and the BBC for its investment in film-making but said he could not understand why Sky did not make films. "As one of the country's most innovative broadcasters, they would bring a new dynamic force to the table that would lift everybody's game."
The job of attracting foreign – principally Hollywood – studios to Britain will go to Film London, but Vaizey stressed that it would be working for the whole of the UK, not just the capital.

The announcements were generally welcomed by the industry. Film producer David Parfitt, incoming chairman of Film London, said: "The key thing for us is that the money is still there and there is a promise to increase it and also a guarantee of the long-term future of the tax credit.

"Those are the things that the industry really wanted to hear."

There was a more understandably downbeat response from the UKFC as it continues to help out in its own abolition. Tim Cagney, managing director, said: "We are relieved that, after over four months of uncertainty, the government has made up its mind on where public support for UK film will sit. There are still many unresolved issues so, to benefit the industry and to protect our staff, we will continue to work with the relevant organisations on a smooth handover of film functions and expertise."

Privately, ministers acknowledge that the film council's abolition was badly handled. It led to angry letters to newspapers, and the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, even travelled to Los Angeles to assert that the UK was open for business when it came to film.
Since then, Vaizey has consulted widely and also announced today that he was setting up a ministerial film forum to meet every six months or so to debate issues and concerns.
Vaizey also announced that the eight regional screen agencies outside London would be streamlined into a single body, Creative England.

29 November 2010

Greg Dyke's response to DCMS proposals

From the BFI website today:

The BFI will become the lead strategic body on film and the distributor of Lottery funds to UK film-makers from April 2011, Minister for Culture and the Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, has announced.

Greg Dyke, Chair of the BFI, has issued the following open letter to the film industry:

You will have heard that in a speech he gave this morning, Ed Vaizey has asked the BFI to take responsibility for film policy in Britain. Under this umbrella is the distribution of Lottery funding. Also included are certification, the Media desk, support for film in the nations and regions, and education.

It is a bold move to create a single body to champion film across the whole of the UK and provide a clear focus internationally.

In his speech, Ed Vaizey also confirmed an ongoing commitment to the tax breaks and he reaffirmed that lottery funding is expected to increase from £27m currently to over £40m by 2014. We obviously welcome both decisions.

This move will mean a major transformation for the BFI. In the immediate term we will be working closely with staff at the UK Film Council to make sure that the skills, expertise and knowledge needed for this new world are retained. For some time we have deliberately held back from making new appointments to the BFI Board, but now that we understand the full scope of our new responsibilities, we can begin the process of recruiting the new Board members. In particular we will be looking to appoint new Governors who are active in the film industry.

Also in the short term, we hope to make more money available for film in the coming year, increasing the size of the Production Fund in 2011-12 from £15m to £18m – that's an increase of 20%. This is possible because we will be making significant overhead savings.

We are looking forward to working even more closely with our colleagues in each of the Nations and with those across the English regions through the new "Creative England". We currently have a good relationship with Film London that is set to be come stronger and this announcement from Government has already become a catalyst for a new drive to promote British film, with initial pledged partnership commitments from BBC Worldwide, BAFTA and Odeon plus, we anticipate, many others.

Of course all of this is subject to the inevitable process of due diligence which will take several months, but we aim to move quickly and to work in an inclusive and collaborative way to develop a new, exciting and coherent vision for film in Britain going forward.

BFI to oversee funding for British cinema

From the Guardian today:

British Film Institute to oversee 60% rise in movie industry lottery funding

Culture minister Ed Vaizey praises the efforts of the UK Film Council but says it is time for the industry to move into a 'new chapter'.

John Plunkett

guardian.co.uk, Monday 29 November 2010

The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, today said the British Film Institute would assume the lion's share of the responsibilities of the defunct UK Film Council and announced a 60% increase in lottery funding for the UK industry.

Vaizey added that the BFI would be a "single voice" for British film and described it as an exciting new page in the history of the industry in the UK.

He said the amount of lottery funding available to the UK film industrywould increase from £27m today to £43m by 2014.

He praised the contribution of the BBC and Channel 4 to UK film-making and called on BSkyB to invest in British movies as they had done in domestic television.

Vaizey said the BFI would be in charge of delivering government policy on film and the distribution of lottery money.

It remains unclear how much will be saved as a result of the controversial axing of the Film Council and the transfer of the majority of its powers to the BFI.

But Vaizey said: "I am pretty certain that we are going to save significant amounts of money going forward and we will see a significant amount of those savings going into film production."

He added that he did not want to "denigrate" the efforts of the film council, which had been a "great success", but said it was time for a "new chapter".

More details soon...

British Film Institute to oversee 60% rise in movie industry lottery funding | Film | guardian.co.uk

14 November 2010

Update on funding bodies for British cinema

From the Daily Mail yesterday:

Curtains for UK Film Council as film charity takes over


Last updated at 10:48 PM on 13th November 2010

The British Film Institute, the charity chaired by former BBC chief Greg Dyke, is to take over the UK Film Council's role handing out lottery funds to film makers. An announcement is expected from Culture Secretary Jeremy hunt next week.

The Government has pledged to abolish the Film Council in its 'bonfire of the quangos'.

The council was behind hits such as Bend It Like Beckham, Tamara Drewe and the Last King Of Scotland, though it also had its share of flops such as Sex Lives Of the Potato Men.

While the BFI is expected to handle the council's £15 million a year funding to film makers, the Arts Council will handle some of the administration to avoid any conflict of interest.

Curtains for UK Film Council as film charity takes over | Mail Online

22 October 2010

More details of cuts to film-sector funding

From Screen Daily today:

Non-Lottery, non-BFI film funding to be chopped in half as part of UK's budget cuts

21 October, 2010 | By Mike Goodridge

After yesterday’s sweeping cuts across the board by the UK government, it has emerged that film-sector funding outside Lottery funds and the British Film Institute (BFI) has been slashed by over 50%.

The Department of Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) has confirmed to Screen that the annual grant-in-aid budget for film in each of the next four years will be around £18.618m, down from £23.9m in the year 2010/11. After counting the BFI’s newly reduced annual budget, that leaves just £4.655m for all other film activities (excluding Lottery development/production funding which the government has pledged to maintain at current levels).

That £4.655m will have to cover:

  • inward investment and the work of the British Film Commissioner
  • National and regional screen agencies
  • research and statistics
  • film exports
  • certification (assessing which films qualify as British and are therefore eligible for Lottery funding and/or UK Film Tax Relief)
  • diversity initiatives
  • anti-piracy initiatives
  • co-production support
  • The UK MEDIA Desk activities
  • Sponsorship of work such as The UK Film Centre at Cannes

At the UKFC, these functions had a 2010/11 budget of £9.37m (that figure does include UKFC overheads).

The total grant-in-aid budget for film over the next four years will be £73.755m, of which £55.137m goes to the BFI.

Cuts had been anticipated but the 50% figure for non-BFI and non-Lottery funding is a stiff reduction and confirms the fear of many in the industry that, while Lottery funding and the tax certification are safe, other areas of the film business will suffer.

UKFC chairman Tim Bevan expressed his fears to a Parliamentary Select Committee earlier this week, saying “The UK Film Council created joined-up thinking. The great danger of the Film Council being closed down is various activities being put out to disparate bodies, and that joined-up thinking goes away.”

The challenge for the bodies which inherit these functions is to minimise the hit in funding by absorbing them into its own administration and management. (The Government says that it will announce its post-UKFC plans by the end of the year.)

Bearing in mind that the government has stressed the value of inward investment and the tax credit, the assumption is that they will remain robustly supported. Meanwhile regional screen agencies are anticipating a cut in funding along the same 15% lines as the BFI.

Non-Lottery, non-BFI film funding to be chopped in half as part of UK's budget cuts | News | Screen

20 October 2010

Spending review cuts BFI budget

From Screen Daily today:

BFI budget to be cut by 15% over four years

20 October, 2010 | By Sarah Cooper

The British Film Institute’s budget is to be cut by 15% over four years, it was announced today (Oct 20) as part of the UK Government’s Spending Review.

On first glance, the grant in aid cut is not as significant as the BFI’s previously predicted 25%, although a spokesman for the organisation said that it was “still too early to say what the full impact is.”

Reacting to the news, the BFI’s director Amanda Nevill said that whilst the organisation had been “looking at the best options to protect our staff and all key activities, the reality is that the BFI will have to change shape and re-scale considerably over the next 12-18 months.”

She added that the organisation would “approach this challenge with imagination and courage and remodel the BFI so that its contribution to this country’s film success remains vital and valued.”

It is not clear at this stage whether any redundancies will be made.

The news comes during the middle of the BFI’s London Film Festival.

Today’s Spending Review also revealed that the total budget for the Department of Media, Culture and Sport will be reduced from £1.4bn to £1.1bn by 2014/2015.

Chancellor George Osborne said that there would be a 41% reduction in administration costs at the department. As part of the cuts, The Arts Council England will also see its budget being slashed.

He confirmed the abolition of 19 of the 55 DCMS-sponsored quangos. However the review shed no further light shed on a potential UKFC successor for the administration of the tax credit and lottery funding.

Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt, said of the cuts: “To deal with an unprecedented financial deficit we have been forced to make some incredibly difficult decisions. By cutting bureaucracy and waste and prioritising the services valued by the public we will be able to protect our sporting and cultural core for the long term.”

The Arts Council England is having its budget cut by almost 30%.

BFI budget to be cut by 15% over four years | News | Screen

16 September 2010

Update on discussions about future of British cinema

From the BBC News website today:

Parties approached to take over Film Council duties

Industry figures discuss the future of British film

Four parties have been asked by the government to consider taking on the responsibilities of the recently axed UK Film Council, the BBC understands.

The BBC was one body asked to consider taking a lead role in distributing lottery money to film projects.

Channel 4, the British Film Institute and the Film London agency are also believed to have been approached.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey met with key industry figures this week to discuss future public funding of UK film.

Mr Vaizey said the meeting was one of many that would take place before a final decision on future government support is later this autumn.

"I want a robust and co-ordinated strategy to promote the UK as the best place to invest in film-making and to provide real support and advice to film-makers and investors alike," he said.

"I want to make sure that public funds generate value for a wider audience and are focused where they can really make a difference."

According to the BBC's arts editor Will Gompertz, the industry itself believes the Arts Council should have a role in film funding.

"Industry insiders say the simplest mechanism would be for the Arts Council to act as the go-between as they're already a lottery distributor."

Founded in 2000, the UK Film Council had an annual budget of £15m to invest in British films.

Earlier this week its chief executive John Woodward announced he will be leaving the organisation in November.

BBC News - Parties approached to take over Film Council duties

15 September 2010

Consultations on future of British cinema

From the BBC News website today:

UK film future set for discussion

Future public funding of UK film will be discussed by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and key figures in the movie business later.

The Government is expected to plough more National Lottery cash into film, despite announcing the abolition of the UK Film Council by 2012.

In July, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the organisation would be axed to save money.

Mr Vaizey said he wants a "robust" strategy to keep UK filmmaking thriving.

Among the figures attending the meeting are representatives of the British Film Institute, the Arts Council, the BBC and Pinewood and Shepperton Studios.

Mr Vaizey said this meeting will be one of many that will take place before a final decision on future government support will be made later this autumn.

In a statement, he said: "There is no question that public support for film is continuing."

He suggested that lottery funding will increase from next year and the film tax credit will remain in place.

"I want a robust and coordinated strategy to promote the UK as the best place to invest in film making and to provide real support and advice to film makers and investors alike," he said.

"I want to make sure that public funds generate value for a wider audience and are focused where they can really make a difference."

Funded by the National Lottery, the UK Film Council has invested about £160m into more than 900 films over the last 10 years, including box office successes like Bend It Like Beckham and Streetdance 3D.

Since the announcement was made to abolish the organisation, which employs 75 people, dozens of leading film-makers, including Mike Leigh, Clint Eastwood and Bill Nighy have written to the government protesting the decision.

On Monday, the head of the organisation - John Woodward - announced he was resigning.

BBC News - UK film future set for discussion

03 September 2010

Amanda Nevill interview

From the Evening Standard today:

Amanda Nevill is fighting for British film

Evening Standard 03.09.10

For Amanda Nevill, director of the British Film Institute, it is the best of times and the worst of times. After seven years in the job, she is gearing up for the 54th London Film Festival. The annual event goes from strength to strength: ticket sales of more than 124,000 last year were “almost at capacity” and this year LFF director Sandra Hebron has secured the hotly-anticipated Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation Never Let Me Go, and Danny Boyle's latest film 127 Hours, for the opening and closing galas. The rest of the programme, likely to equal or exceed last year's record of 193 feature films from 46 countries and 15 world premieres, will be announced next Wednesday.

Nevill, who is 53 and a glass-half-full person, is “fantastically excited” about the festival. It is a huge public event for London cinephiles, a chance for “more challenging” or obscure films to find audiences and distributors, and “a way of flying the flag for the film industry in this country”.

She is also excited about the fact that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told her, in writing, that the £15 million allocated annually from the Lottery to fund British film, and the tax breaks for inward investment in movie-making in the UK, are secure for the next year.

But the glass is also half empty. The body which has, until now, administered that £15 million, the UK Film Council, will be axed in 2012 in the Government's bonfire of the quangos. Its role as a funder, co-producer and international promoter of film was always separate from the BFI's role as curator of the nation's cinematic heritage. Indeed, the Film Council also used to administer the BFI's annual £16 million grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
But since the announcement of the Council's demise, there's been speculation that the BFI will have to take over the whole show. Meanwhile, the BFI has lost £45 million pledged by the last government, and £5 million from the Mayor's office, to kick-start the building of a state-of-the art, £166 million film centre for London to replace the decrepit BFI Southbank under Waterloo Bridge. And like all other publicly funded organisations, the BFI is being asked by the Government to come up with a business plan for the next four years based on a likely cut of between 25 and 30 per cent of its funding.

To put matters into perspective, the BFI earns an estimated £1.50 for every pound of its £16 million annual grant, but that grant has been at a standstill for six years. The organisation has the equivalent of 380 full-time staff nationwide, about 100 fewer than it did seven years ago. With inflation and pension liability, it faces a reduction in its operating budget of between £6 million and £7 million over four years: redundancies and a further scaling-back of BFI activities are inevitable. The sums involved are crucial but, in world film terms, tiny — for perspective, consider the budget for Christopher Nolan's cerebro-blockbuster Inception: £129 million. But as I say, Nevill is an optimist. So we start off with the good news.

As she points out, the beauty of The BFI London Film Festival, this year in partnership with American Express, is that it is a public event, unlike Cannes or Venice, or London Fashion Week. It's a celebration first and a marketplace second, and therefore presents a mix of films “which are more getatable, as well as films that you would not otherwise see in this country, and work by established film-makers who are doing something different”. The opening and closing gala films are cases in point.

The wistful coming-of-age drama Never Let Me Go, although directed by American Mark Romanek, is “British film-making at its best”, with a cast including Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.

“There's something in the DNA of British actors, the Shakespearean tradition, the understanding of timing, and an ability to bring real subtlety to a role, that is unique,” says Nevill. “The cinematography by Adam Kimmell is amazing, and the way it tells an understated but devastating story in film —which is an in-your face medium — is beautifully done.”

On the other hand, 127 Hours shows “a great British director with a huge history trying something different”. Directed by Danny Boyle, and in inverse proportion to the huge casts and spectacle of Slumdog Millionaire and his forthcoming opening ceremony for the Olympics, it tells the story of climber Aron Ralston, who was trapped by a rock in a canyon while mountaineering in Utah and had to sever his own arm with a penknife to survive.

It sounds a bit like the decisions facing the British film industry. Understandably, Nevill doesn't want to comment on the rights or wrongs of axing the Film Council. British film is a small world. But she insists the BFI will not seek to take over the Film Council's £15 million funding budget: she expects that the Arts Council, “which has the mechanisms in place and can minimise overheads”, will fill that breach instead. “I don't think it's our role to be a distributor of Lottery funds,” she says, “but we definitely want to be closely involved with some of the things those funds end up funding.”

As Nevill points out, the BFI runs cinemas, mounts festivals, distributes films and DVDs around the country, puts film online and has a strong record in education, promotion and publishing. It makes an estimated 12,000 films available to audiences across the country, in various media, every year. Access to BFI screenings, in the festival and year-round, is open to everyone but the organisation is currently engaged on a drive to swell the ranks of its devoted membership, who enjoy many fringe benefits. “The BFI is a very powerfully vertically integrated cultural entity in the context of film, with huge expertise,” she says.

Recently the organisation has been particularly active in digitising material and putting it online. Nevill points out that digital technology has democratised film-making by making it cheaper and easier but damaged the idea of watching film in cinemas “as a congregational experience”, which is a core strut of the BFI's cultural remit. Currently cinema audiences are up — a movie is a cheap treat in a recession — but she believes some picturehouses will close, and those that remain will have to “make the film-going experience fabulous”. These are some of the many conundrums in an uncertain future landscape.

The forthcoming cuts are likely to be so savage, she says, that hardly any area of BFI activity is safe: not digitisation, not DVD distribution, not Sight and Sound magazine. But then, everyone is in the same boat, and as her chairman Greg Dyke told her: “We've just got to get on with it.”

The setback to the film centre, designed to be a practical home for glitzy premieres as well as the BFI's core activities, is particularly galling, though. Nevill acknowledges that it's hard to argue for a cinema when hospitals and schools aren't being built, “but it's not a vanity project”.

Britain has admirable institutions dedicated to art, theatre, opera and music but BFI Southbank, formerly known as the National Film Theatre, was built under a bridge in the Fifties. A sewer runs under it, traffic runs over it, and it leaks. It will have to close for three weeks later this year to replace air-chillers installed in 1957. These should have lasted only 10 years but they've been endlessly patched and fixed and are only coming out now because they are illegal. Nevill reckons the BFI could raise £72 million from the sale of its Stephen Street headquarters (which was a gift from John Paul
Getty II) and fundraising. But that wouldn't even pay for the replacement of the Waterloo Bridge facilities. So they are looking at the possibility of a scaled-down film centre, or a phased build of a bigger one. Interest has currently been withdrawn from the preferred site, a car park next to Jubilee Gardens and the London Eye.

At least the BFI's peerless but imperilled collection of fragile, decaying film stock will soon be safe, stored and frozen in a new vault near Birmingham which was commissioned and paid for before the crash.

“We either do something about the film centre now or bequeath the problem to the next generation,” she says, “and I am keen to get it resolved on my watch.” Born in Yorkshire — she still has a house near Howarth — and mother of two adult daughters, Neville describes herself as a “sticker”.

She came to the BFI after consecutive nine-year stints running the Royal Photographic Society and the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television in Bradford. And she has no plans to step down from her current post anytime soon, although her reign has not all been smooth sailing. Together with her previous chairman, the late Anthony Minghella, Nevill has modernised and streamlined the BFI. She also faced intense criticism from some quarters over access to the archive and dumbing down.

“But that dynamic, of debate and argument, is the lifeblood of an organisation like the BFI,” she says. “One of our sponsors told me that if he could bottle the passion in this organisation, he'd be running the top-rated company in the world.”
Arguably, an organisation infused with passion will be better equipped to knuckle down and deal with the hardships ahead in a creative way.

“We are going to be living in a very different world, and everybody is affected,” says Nevill.

“But I've said to my staff and the board that we will look back in five years' time and see that this period was the making of some organisations. And the BFI is going to be in that category.”

08 August 2010

Hunt replies to critics in the Observer

In the Observer business section today:

Jeremy Hunt: I've cut the UK Film Council so that money goes to the industry

The culture secretary says that financial support for UK film-makers will continue and that he has axed an expensive quango
My first decision as culture secretary was to abolish ministerial cars, saving £250,000 a year. I wanted to send a signal that the money we spend on culture should go to culture, not ministerial pay or privileges.

It is in that context that last week I announced the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. My department is responsible for an extraordinary 55 quangos, the vast majority with highly paid bosses and costly bureaucracy. But if we are going to face budget cuts I have a duty to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent where it gets the most bang for its buck. It is simply not acceptable in these times to fund an organisation like the UK Film Council, where no fewer than eight of the top executives are paid more than £100,000.

Stopping money being spent on a film quango is not the same as stopping money being spent on film. In fact my second decision actually increased the amount of money going into film when I restored the lottery to its original four pillars, increasing the share going to arts (including film) to 20%. This is expected to increase lottery funding for film by around £3m a year.

Britain is the world's third-biggest film market, with box office receipts of nearly £1bn last year. We make Hollywood blockbusters – including the two biggest franchises of all, Harry Potter and Bond – as well as creative successes such as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. Less high profile but equally significant is the incredible skills base we have in our world-class facilities sector which includes visual effects and special effects.

But if the industry is to expand further, we also need to be honest about its failings. Two areas in particular need close attention.

The first is the chronic difficulties associated with film financing. Lew Grade said of Raise the Titanic that it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic. The challenges have not gone away. All too often when British film-makers want to make anything of scale, they end up selling all the intellectual property rights in advance simply to finance production. The result is that when we have a hit, the profits do not go back to the film-maker where they could be used to finance the next production. This is what happened with Slumdog Millionaire, a creative success for Film4 but a financial success for Fox Searchlight.

We welcome all foreign investment, which is why the film tax credit is staying. Worth at least £100m a year this is no small commitment. But a healthy film industry will also have a strong homegrown element. Our independent television production sector has understood the importance of IP retention and has become the largest exporter of TV formats in the world.

The second area we need to be honest about is where taxpayers and lottery money is best spent. That is why we want an open debate about, for example, how we fund films of high artistic worth that are unlikely to make it to general release. How do we ensure the public get to see the films they are paying for?

The other decision I have made is to guarantee the future of the British Film Institute. The role it plays in supporting our cultural heritage and promoting the cultural value of film is crucial. But we want to see them do this more effectively, so are looking to remove some of the red tape around what they do and give them greater operational and artistic freedom.

Support for film through the lottery and tax credits will continue. But it must be right to address the structural challenges it faces and focus resources on supporting frontline film-makers rather than expensive bureaucracy. We should not accept the relative size of the British film industry as a fait accompli. Rather, we must step up our ambitions and make the UK the best country for nurturing and promoting its homegrown creative talent.

01 August 2010

Hunt reaffirms commitment to the arts

Letters from Jeremy Hunt and Brian Winston in the Guardian yesterday:

Our commitment to the arts is rock solid

The Guardian 31 July 2010

Polly Toynbee claims (Comment, 28 July) the government wants to replace public funding of the arts with private. That is simply not the case – I have always argued that private funding should be in addition to, not instead of, public money. Why? Because state funding offers stability over many years which usually philanthropy cannot. It also, with a proper arm's-length relationship, allows creative risk-taking and artistic freedom that is not always possible with other forms of funding. But the arts, too, should play their part in helping to reduce the deficit.

So we need to protect the arts, which in this country are probably the finest offered anywhere in the world. We also need to explore whether the government can do anything else to help. That's why I returned the lottery to its original four pillars, which will lead to a significant boost in arts funding. That's why I am concentrating on removing costs from the parts of my budget that are not frontline. That is also why we are right to explore whether philanthropy can be increased, with the important caveat that this will be more difficult for smaller organisations, especially those outside London. Restoring the nation's finances is in the interests of all our sectors. We don't yet know what cuts we will have to make to our budget in the autumn spending review, but this government's support for the arts remains rock solid. The 2 million people in our creative industries and our reputation as a society that is both civilised and creative demand no less.

Jeremy Hunt MP

Secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport

• As a governor of the British Film Institute at the time of the creation of the UK Film Council, I have to demur from Colin McArthur's description of the BFI's support for the UKFC as "treacherous" because the council was "designed to supplant it" (Letters, 29 July). The council was not so designed, but rather it represented a rational plan to focus official support for the film industry. The BFI's cultural functions were left untouched. OK, I will admit to naivety. The Film Council rapidly became a quango to give quangos a bad name – its chief executive earning more than the director of the Tate. He and its bloated staff have palpably failed to build a self-sustaining film industry. But we were not to know that in 2000. Not all of us at that time despised the BFI "as a ghetto peopled by unworldly intellectuals". For me it was rather a matter of its patchy record of support for production. McArthur's touching belief in the "irony" of the BFI surviving the Film Council is probably just as naive as my belief a decade ago that the Film Council was a good idea. The BFI is surely just as threatened by this government's Kulturkampf as any other cultural organisation.

Professor Brian Winston

University of Lincoln

Letters: Our commitment to the arts is rock solid | Culture | The Guardian

30 July 2010

Time Out on UKFC demise

From Time Out yesterday:

The UK Film Council is dead. Let's give the British Film Institute a chance

The closure of the public body which put money into films like 'Hunger' and 'In the Loop' is a sad thing. But might this be an exciting new time for British cinema, asks Dave Calhoun?

Ten years ago, the then Culture Secretary Chris Smith gave birth to the UK Film Council, a body designed to boost homegrown film-making by investing Lottery and public money in British talent. Some of the strongest films in which the UKFC invested were ‘Vera Drake’, ‘Hunger’, ‘In the Loop’ and ‘Man on Wire’, and with less fanfare the UKFC has done good work to help the release of smaller films by funding extra posters and prints, as well as spearheading the switch to digital projection. Then, last week, Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt pulled the plug on the show. The move came without ‘any real discussion’, according to UKFC chief John Woodward, and even its critics agreed it wasn’t much of a tenth birthday gift. As I write, Facebook, Twitter, an online petition and the letters page of The Guardian are alive with calls to save the UKFC.

Without doubt, the end of the UKFC is a blow, and directors like Mike Leigh and Mike Figgis have understandably spoken out against the move, not least because it creates huge uncertainty at a tough time. But should we run along uncritically with all this surprise and shock? The end of the UKFC is being portrayed as Tory axe-wielding, but the truth is, firstly, that the trouble started under Labour and, secondly, that a new approach to how and where we spend public money on film could be a good thing for British cinema.

To understand last week’s move, you need to know that last August Labour culture minister Sion Simon proposed a merger of the UKFC with the British Film Institute, the country’s other big film body, which manages the National Film Archive, runs BFI Southbank and organises the London Film Festival. The plan was to cut costs and prevent overlap. It’s now clear that the Tory solution is to run away with Labour’s plans by getting rid of one body entirely – and the UKFC was always more vulnerable. The UKFC was a New Labour quango and the sort of bureaucracy for which the Tories have been sharpening their knives for ages. Moreover, the BFI is a charity, protected by royal charter – it can’t be dismantled. Even more importantly, the BFI is a cultural body; too many of the UKFC’s activities existed to help the industry turn a greater profit – is that really the job of money designated to promote culture? Neither did it help the UKFC’s cause that so many of its execs were on high salaries compared to those doing similar jobs at the BFI. It looked bad.

Behind closed doors, the BFI and its canny chairman Greg Dyke will be thrilled. Not only have Dyke and his colleagues fended off talk of a merger but they find themselves back in the pre-2000 position of being funded by government rather than in the pay of the UKFC, an organisation too often embarrassed to treat film as culture. In the end, that was Chris Smith’s biggest mistake: to subjugate the BFI, a cultural body, to the UKFC, a trade one. That mistake has been corrected.

Yet this is no time for dancing on tables. Whatever its faults, the UKFC performed a crucial role in developing and producing British films. There has been wild talk about the UKFC only producing box-office disasters like ‘Sex Lives of the Potato Men’ or big films in no need of support. Neither is true. Filmmakers like Andrea Arnold and Steve McQueen needed government help and received it from the UKFC. It’s these filmmakers we should now be most concerned about.

However, let’s not call time on British independent film just yet. The Tories’ announcement last week suggested that the money given to film by the UKFC – £15m a year – is safe (even if the exact figure is not clear). The big question is: who will dish it out? Will the BFI be asked to manage a production fund, as it did pre-2000, producing films like ‘Under the Skin’, ‘Gallivant’ and ‘Love is the Devil’ ? Will the Arts Council assume a role? Or will a new body be established, with key roles for BBC Films and Film Four?

I think the most exciting – and daring – result would be for the BFI to take on the most essential of the UKFC’s work – meaning that a cultural body would be putting money into film as culture. But at the same time we must redefine what needs support. If the demise of the UKFC means that films on the level of ‘The Constant Gardener’, ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ – all of which received UKFC help – have to go without, so be it. With its archive and twin focus on heritage and education, the BFI celebrates film as an art form, a principle that should apply to future funding. Our culture needs raw visions, new talent, difficult stories. We need to take risks. We need to be prepared to put money into films that might not make a single penny but which nurture and develop both talent and audiences and which progress British cinema rather than just repeating past successes and chasing foreign awards. Let’s ask ourselves why we give public money to film. Is it to provide support to an art form? Or is it to provide extra capital to an industry? I’d argue that it’s the former – and no organisation is better placed to honour that approach than the BFI.

Author: Dave Calhoun