Revelations that the British Council is reviewing its Arts Strategy and restructuring toward a 'multidisciplinary approach' in areas such as film, dance, and the visual arts, have caused uproar in the UK arts community.
There is widespread concern that the Council will lose the sectoral expertise it has built up in areas such as film, and could dilute the support for international promotion activities.
However, the Council's Director of Arts, Venu Dhupa, has made a strong rebuttal that either support for the arts would be reduced, or expertise lost, in the forthcoming restructure.
Dhupa, who was made Director of Arts in August 2007, said, 'These reforms are not about diminishing. There will be no cut in the Arts budget. There will be no cut in the budget for film. If anything, because of the Council's 50th anniversary in 2009, it will increase, as it will for all the arts. In advance of the full proposals being made public, Dhupa was cagier about how film posts will actually be restructured.
'Right now, members of my film team with real expertise are [wasting their time] doing things like booking tickets or hotel rooms. These changes will enable our experts to do an expert job,' Dhupa explained. 'They will allow them to work on a much larger platform and to be more ambitious and innovative in their approach.'
Dhupa would not go so far as to confirm that the head film post would remain exactly as it exists now, but a similar position would be there, she insisted. Indeed, when asked if the popular interim head of film, Satwant Gill, would remain in her post, she replied, 'That's entirely up to Satwant'.
'That level of expertise in film will definitely be retained. In fact, we will actually be introducing more expertise at that level in areas such as the Creative Industries and the Media,' Dhupa said.
This will be the second restructuring for the Council in the past year, but few concrete details have been made public as yet.
What is known is that the British Council intends to disband individual departments, including the film department.
As such, the industry will remain wary until they see the final details. In the meantime, speculation is running rife.
Andrew Orr of the sales company Independent is one of those concerned about rumours of funding cuts and expertise being lost. Orr said: 'I would be sad if the current speculation was true. In recent years, the Council's efforts in festival and market support have really helped the UK sales sector. Over many years now, their support in getting individual UK films screened has significantly contributed to raising the profile of British film and British talent abroad.'
The British Council currently supports the UK film industry in over 70 countries with the aim to 'build and broaden international audiences for new work from the UK.'
More specifically, the Council provides a visible British presence at both Berlin and Cannes (plans are said to be continuing as usual for the British Council's popular UK umbrella sales stand at Berlin's European Film Market). The organisation also facilitates the presence of UK films at key festivals through its preview service for producers and a clearing house for short film entries.
Vertigo's Rupert Preston, producer of films such as It's All Gone Pete Tong and A Good Woman, stressed the importance of the Council's continued efforts in securing screenings for UK films internationally.
Preston said, 'While support in the market is undoubtedly important, the support that the Council currently provides to upcoming producers and directors in getting films shown at festivals around the world is a massive help. It's getting tougher and tougher to get films out to a wider audience and if that support were to
disappear it would be hugely disappointing for new UK talent.'
Also, David Pope, head of the New Producers Alliance, sent a message Friday to NPA members and the UK film community voicing his 'concern' over the restructuring at the British Council.
'As you are probably well aware, the British Council Film Department has provided essential services to the independent filmmaking community and it is out of respect for the work of the department that we are writing,' Pope wrote. He urged those concerned to voice their concerns to executives at the British Council.
While Dhupa would not be drawn on the details of future film activities, she did say that the Council's continued presence at Berlin and Cannes is not in doubt.
'I can confirm absolutely that Berlin and Cannes and the Venice Biennale will continue,' she said. 'We are very proud of what we do there. I feel that we have been given a responsibility to do this for Britain and we will continue to do it.'
That position was confirmed by the UK Film Council, which partners the British Council on a range of activities. A spokesperson for the Film Council said that cooperation at Berlin, Cannes and the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival for short films would be unaffected.
As the UKFC spokesperson explained, 'Like everyone else, we are waiting to see the precise shape of the British Council restructure when they bring all their arts activities into one department. We hope that the very important work they do in promoting filmmakers abroad - particularly short filmmakers - remains unaffected and that the British Council will continue to play a key role in the export of UK films and talent.'
The UK film and broader arts community will have the chance to judge for themselves when the proposals are set out in a 'vision' document due for release later this month.
A public consultation on the British Council reforms will run from the end of January until mid-March. Among those being invited to comment are arts organisations, Regional Development Agencies and arts professionals.
The Council aims to have a final 'vision' in place for the beginning of the new financial year on April 1st.
Film-makers aren't the only ones concerned - artists including Damien Hirst, David Hockney and Tracey Emin signed a public letter opposed to plans to scrap the Council's visual arts department, and the theatre world is upset about plans to get rid of subsidies to 194 previously supported organisations.