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UK Film Council to close

PaperclipMoney.jpgThe news has been hitting just about everywhere since yesterday, the UK Film Council is being shut down by the Government as part of their cuts to try and recover Britain from the largest deficit since World War II. To almost all it seems to be a complete catastrophe and nothing short of a death knoll for British film.

I think indeed it could mark a period of difficulty for the film industry, but could it survive? Could it recover? There's certainly talk that the lottery funding that the UKFC handed out will continue but just move to other organisations, and will that be back to the BFI or distributed to smaller organisations?

This hasn't been a surprise though, both the British Film Institute (BFI) and the UK Film Council (UKFC) have been struggling and it was three years ago that the BFI were getting concerned. The Guardian had the story and told us:

The problem for the BFI now is that its grant-in-aid funding of £16 million a year (administered by the UFC) has been frozen for four years and shows no signs of increasing...

...the BFI is so focused on securing its Film Centre - and so aware that its public funding is shrinking - that it appears ready to offload loss-making arms like its publishing division regardless of their cultural value.

BFI director Amanda Nevill said at the time:

”We are going to have to exist within a smaller financial framework. There are going to be job losses. We can't avoid that...”

The thoughts at the time seemed to be that the BFI might be taken over as the UKFC was responsible for distributing the National Lottery funds to British films and for gathering the returns, and the BFI had shut down their production arm. The UKFC seemed the stronger organisation.

A further warning came in June, and again it looked like the BFI was in trouble as its new Film Centre had some £73 million pulled from it by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the 17th of June. At the time Arts minister Ed Vaizey said through The Guardian:

”Although we are unable to commit to some large-scale capital investment projects while tackling this unprecedented deficit, I am planning to fundamentally reassess how the government supports film in this country...

...I want to make sure that we are supporting the film industry so that it is ready for the challenges it will face in the decade top come and that we make sure every pound of public money we spend gives the maximum benefit.”

A BFI spokesperson said that although it was disappointing, they were prepared for it and were expecting the funding to be pulled considering the cutbacks throughout the UK.

Then, yesterday, the UK Film Council was the one that was hit and told was effectively closing down. The article tells us that John Woodward, chief executive of the UK Film Council, told his staff via an unexpected email that the decision had been taken with...

”...no notice and no consultation”

Woodward went on to describe it as:

”...short-sighted and potentially very damaging, especially as there is at present no roadmap setting out where the UK Film Council's responsibilities and funding will be placed in the future”

Apparently it was even a shock to Tim Bevan, chair of the UKFC, who knew that the tough times were ahead. In August 2009 there was talk of a merger between the UK Film Council and the BFI, and the two recognised that it may come. At the time, again from The Guardian, Bevan said:

”We know that the climate for public funding is going to get much tougher, and it's therefore sensible that we ask ourselves why there are two publicly funded film organisations in the UK. We need to look at the scope for savings across the board, to push as much money as we can into new film activity.”

So yesterday was probably a shock as last year he was possibly considering the UKFC and the BFI merging in some way. His comments yesterday reflect that.

”Abolishing the most successful film support organisation the UK has ever had is a bad decision, imposed without any consultation or evaluation. People will rightly look back on today's announcement and say it was a big mistake, driven by short-term thinking and political expediency. British film, which is one of the UK's more successful growth industries, deserves better.”

Shock indeed. I've just been working in a Government department which was responsible for innovation, money earning, and education for the health industry students and professionals, and the very same thing happened. Email notification to all and it was a mammoth shock all round.

So what impact will this have? Well since 2000, the UK Film Council has distributed some £160 million of lottery money to over nine hundred films. On IMDB some one hundred and eighty three are listed with eleven currently in production.

Here are a few of that IMDB list that I either recognise or have seen and a couple of other films that they've funded, with the majority being good, and most being a strong representation of British film.

Gosford Park, Bend it Like Beckham, Bright Young Things, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Touching the Void, Dear Frankie, Creep, Vera Drake, The Merchant of Venice, Bride & Prejudice, The Magic Roundabout, The Proposition, Shooting Dogs, The Constant Gardener, Mrs Henderson Presents, Driving Lessons, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Severance, Red Road, London to Brighton, The Last King of Scotland, Venus, Deep Water, This Is England, The History Boys, Miss Potter, Notes on a Scandal, Becoming Jane, Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later, WAZ (W Delta Z), Brick Lane, Death Defying Acts, St. Trinian's, A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, Incendiary, Hunger, Man on Wire, Donkey Punch, The Cottage, Brideshead Revisited, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Franklyn, In the Loop, Fish Tank, Bright Star, Triangle, Creation, Harry Brown, Nowhere Boy, Tamara Drew and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

The Guardian have a great little scrolling slideshow that shows some of the films above, how much the UK Film Council invested, and how much they got back in each of the films. Sometimes it's a loss, sometimes it's not a lot, however there are some that have a pretty impressive figure next to their titles.

Some more facts that came with an official press release reveal that the upcoming films the UKFC have been funding are Mike Leigh's Another Year, Stephen Frears's Tamara Drewe, Nigel Cole's Made in Dagenham, Joe Cornish's Attack the Block, Rowan Joffe's Brighton Rock, Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk about Kevin, Justin Chadwick's The First Grader, Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, Peter Mullan's Neds and Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, and of course, Streetdance 3D!

Apart from the funding of films they also invested in the roll-out of digital cinema across the country, especially to four "under screened" English counties (they do say UK, but the locations are all in England), supporting over two hundred film societies and film venues around the country, work with schools and education, and they also assisted with funding the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival and the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival. What does it mean for them?

It is interesting though to look through these articles and see the big names coming out and defending the UKFC, but then when you read comments from smaller, independent film-makers, there is quite a few of them saying that this is a good thing and means that they have more chance of getting funding now, saying that the UKFC operated a lot like Scottish Screen, if you didn't fit with what they wanted you were out, and if they knew your face then you were going to get the funding.

A downward turn in the industry? I'm sure, but it won't fail. According to reports so far the funding will still be there and the films will still get made, we're just waiting to find out how. What effect this will have on the digital cinema roll-out and the Edinburgh and Sheffield film festivals, we'll have to wait and see and hope.



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