Ben Roberts, Director of the BFI Film Fund, today promised far greater transparency in the way public funding decisions are made.

Giving the keynote address to an audience of UK and international producers, financiers and distributors at the Film London Production Finance Market, Roberts seemed to be hinting at a new period of ‘glasnost’ in the relationship between producers and public financiers.

“Everything gets looked at. I don’t subscribe to favouritism or mates. I think we have an open access scheme. We are very fair. I am putting processes in place to make that no-one is able to shake someone’s hand behind a closed door and offer them some money. It will all happen in minuted meetings, as should be the case with public money.”

The BFI Fund said the organisation’s website would be overhauled so that it will be possible to check how and why funding decisions were made.

Roberts acknowledged that the BFI was still making funding decisions “based on our instincts, if you like. That always creates difficult arguments.” 

However, he insisted that these decisions were very robustly debated.

“What I would say is that it isn’t one person making the decisions. It’s quite a large editorial team who spend a lot of time in meetings. There is a lot of argument internally. I am quite surprised at how violent it gets!” Roberts (who is overseeing a fund that will eventually rise to £24 million a year) joked of the decision making process.

Roberts also promised producers less onerous conditions for public funding than they faced under the UK Film Council (formerly the lead body for film in the UK.)

“At the Film Council, the recoupment target was quite tough. The recoupment target for the Premiere Fund was, I think 50%. That was tough for a lot of producers to make work,” Roberts said.

By contrast, the BFI is setting the recoupment target at between 20 and 25%.

The Fund boss acknowledged that the UK is not currently an attractive coproduction partner.

“We decided that one of the first things we could do was allocate part of our Film Fund budget for minority coproductions which would be very difficult to justify under the guiding principles of the Fund.”

The initial allocation, as already announced, will be around £1 million.

Roberts raised the possibility that foreign filmmakers might eventually be able to take advantage of the “joint venture” scheme to encourage producers and distributors to work together.

“I guess I’ll be there until I am despised!” Roberts reflected on how long he is likely to stay in a BFI job that very much puts him in the firing line. “Obviously, if there is a sense that you are making very unfair decisions, then this industry is very vocal about that.”

Speaking to ScreenDaily after his Keynote address (hosted by Angus Finney), Roberts elaborated on some of the points he raised. Regarding the UK’s place in Europe, he stated that the idea of Britain rejoining Eurimages (The Council of Europe’s film fund) hadn’t been dismissed out of hand. This issue, he suggested, is likely to revisited again in “a couple of years.” However, he also said it was far from clear where the money to pay for Eurimages membership would be found.

“We’re not joining today and we’re trying to do other things to balance that by offering other opportunities,” Roberts said. “We will have a look again.”