UK Prime Minister David Cameron has riled up the British film community today with a statement emphasising that the BFI should support “commercially successful pictures.”
The statement was made today as Cameron visited Pinewood Studios — he was speaking pre-emptively ahead of the comprehensive Film Policy Review’s release on Monday. Cameron said today: “Our role, and that of the British Film Institute, should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions.”
UK industry figures have given a mixed response to Cameron’s remarks – and the spin that has been put on them in advance of the publication of the Review.
Palme d’Or and Golden Lion winning British director Mike Leigh (one of Britain’s most revered filmmakers) today refused to comment on inflammatory remarks from an unnamed film industry source that his career would be “over” once the Film Policy Review report is published next week.
“He doesn’t want to comment,” Leigh’s spokesman said of the following remark, “well, it’s over for Mike Leigh,” which a BBC correspondent quoted on the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4.
The BBC report suggested that the long awaited Film Policy Review (due to be published Monday morning, Jan 16) will advocate Lottery money being “awarded to films based on whether they can make money, not whether they are artistic or culturally rewarding.” The report said Lottery funds would be invested in “people, not projects” and that the Government wanted to see tax payer money “invested in movies people want to see, not luvvies who are your mates.”
Ken Loach (another Palme d’Or winning British director) disputed today’s rushed interpretation of what the Review is likely to contain. He told the BBC that “success can come at all levels. You don’t need to make a blockbuster to be successful.”
There has been some dismay that today’s events – in particular, the inference that a filmmaker as distinguished as Leigh could now be marginalised. Some say that Cameron’s speech today and the controversy over Leigh risks pre-empting a full, balanced assessment of the report. For example, #fundablefilms was a trending topic amongst UK film industry Tweeters, with spoof commercialised suggestions that might meet Cameron’s approval, including Secrets And True Lies and Gone With The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
However, John McVay, chief-executive of producers’ organisation Pact, broadly welcomed Cameron’s remarks. “If you pick the bones out, what he (Cameron) is clearly saying is that he wants to back successful British film businesses, which is good news,” McVay told Screen. “It’s not about backing quangos and public funds but finding ways that public funds can be used to support our indigenous feature film producers.”
Pact has long been calling for British producers to be given enhanced recoupment corridors on successful films - a call the Report is expected to address.
Citing the example of The King ‘s Speech, McVay pointed out that lines between what is “commercial” and “arthouse” films often blur. He also emphasized the importance of the arthouse sector for “talent, development, and for creative innovation. That’s all a precious part of our industry.”
The British Film Commission also welcomed Cameron’s remarks. Iain Smith, BFC Chair, said in a statement: “On behalf of the British Film Commission I thank the Prime Minister for his comments today praising the work of the BFC. Following another busy and potentially record breaking year for inward investment, it is reassuring to hear the government understands the role big budget, international movies shooting in the UK plays in building a world-class skilled workforce, while boosting the UK economy. With superb acting talent, crew and post production expertise, state of the art facilities, and the lucrative film tax relief, the British Film Commission promotes the UK’s competitive edge internationally to ensure we retain our position as one of the world’s most popular filming destinations. And as we look to the future, I look forward to the publication of Lord Smith ‘s full Film Policy Review and to working with the DCMS and the BFI to consider and implement its findings.”
In May 2011, Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey appointed former Culture Secretary Lord Chris Smith to chair an eight-member panel to conduct the extensive independent review of Government film policy. The Film Policy Review panel also included Will Clarke, Julian Fellowes, Matthew Justice, Michael Lynton, Tim Richards, Tessa Ross, Libby Savill, and Iain Smith. The Report is expected to cover areas ranging from production, development, distribution, inward investment, and exhibition as well as film heritage and education.
Screen will offer full news and analysis of the Film Policy Review publication on Monday.