FDA President Lord Puttnam calls for rise in Distribution Fund budget as Lottery investment rises; expresses “dismay” at the delay of the Digital Economy Act.

Film Distributors’ Association President Lord David Puttnam today urged that distribution funding “continues in the short-term and well beyond”, and urged that the share of money allocated to distribution activities from the Lottery funding of film “should surely rise at least in proportion to its general increase” from £27m to £43m.

In a wide-ranging speech Puttnam talked about the major challenges facing UK distributors and highlighted the sector’s successes in 2010 during the FDA’s annual event in Leicester Square, London.

The P&A fund is one of the funds to survive the UKFC-BFI merger, but its budget, structure and administration has yet to be determined. Puttnam also noted that it was “essential” that the work of the Research and Statistics unit, now moving to the BFI, be continued.

Puttnam heralded the importance of the digital rollout in cinemas across the UK in contributing to last year’s UK and Ireland combined box office of £1.1bn, the territory’s biggest ever.

But he also warned that technological advancement – most notably increasing broadband speeds and greater technological connectivity among the whole population — would “blur the lines between theatrical and non-theatrical” film watching. With that comes opportunity, but also new challenges.

He cautioned that “the greatest obstacle to growth across the whole of the creative industries remains copyright infringement and theft”, which he said “threatens to drain the sector of its legitimate rights and revenues by undermining confidence and stability.”

On this subject Puttnam expressed his “dismay and frustration” at the delay in the implementation of the Digital Economy Act - currently undergoing a judicial review in the High Court - which is primarily aimed at tackling copyright infringement.

The FDA has committed itself to a number of initiatives to clamp down on piracy including supplying infra-red night vision devices to help deter recordings in cinemas, which has proven successful in reducing in cinema piracy.

Puttnam went on to outline the importance of incorporating better understanding of copyright infringement among children through educational schemes in schools.

Film education overall in the UK will become crucial for sustainable film production and distribution businesses because it will develop the next generation of audiences, Puttnam said emphatically. He said: “the only way to build a broader, sustainable society is through education.”

Part of that will also be educating children about the notion of copyright in the digital world they were born into (81% of 8- to 12-year olds using mobile phones in the UK). He noted: “FDA has set out to help teachers fill the education gap among 8- to 12-year-olds – the upper primary level – about the value of something called ‘copyright’, and how it applies to the real world.”

The FDA also today launched a new publication, Maths + Movies, as a tool (produced by Film Education) for primary teachers to use film budgets and box-office numbers to teach maths skills. The content has been piloted in select primary schools since January.

He said that there was a “completely virtuous circle” of the film industry letting schools and colleges make use of films (and film extracts) in the teaching of many subjects. “The more that appropriate film clips are presented in schools, with absolute clarity regarding what is permitted, what is not and why, the better for students and the film industry alike.” He said that the current Hargreaves Review of IP and then the UK government “should encourage an unambiguous working procedure, not – as now – a wink and a nod, for schools and colleges to use film clips.”

In other educational support, the FDA continues to sponsor the National Film and Television School, something that Putnam said he’d like to “beg” other parts of the industry to get involved in as well.

Puttnam also noted the value of film distribution in regards to tourism and other economic stimulation in the UK.

He said: [Cinema’s] impact resonates in all sorts of ways” and pointed to the “remarkable ‘economic multiplier effect’.” For instance, Cornish mansion Antony House, run by the National Trust, has seen a four-fold increase in visitor numbers since having been featured in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. Similar results could be coming to Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, one of the locations for Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides. Puttnam noted that the National Trust had generated £5.5m in 2010 just from fees for film shoots at its properties. “It’s something we could start thinking about more coherently for a greater cumulative effect,” he said, not just with the National Trust but with other organisations.

“Britain is the favourite long-haul destination for Americans, and movie locations play a dynamic, magnetic part in delivering the numbers,” he said.

The film industry can work with the government to optimise opportunities like that in the future, he urged. “For 2012, tourism will have a different focus but will nonetheless be here,” he said. “Moviegoing shouldn’t go into meltdown during the Olympics and Paralympics.”

At the same event, the FDA unveiled its 2011 Yearbook, announcing some key new statistics from 2010:

  • The number of feature films released, which has exceeded 500 a year in each of the last five years, increased to 573, an average of 11 openings each week.
  • Overall admissions dipped slightly below 2009’s total to 169.25m, the first decline in four years.
  • 3D accounted for £237.9m of the £1.1bn total box office.
  • Around 1,500 screens are digital, nearly half of the total, and most of those are 3D-enabled.
  • Cinemagoing in the UK for January and February 2011 was up by 10.1% year on-year compared to 2010 – 32.46 million admissions were recorded during the first two months of 2011.
  • Distributors’ estimated p and a spend of £300m was the lowest since 2006, but their £170.9m media advertising spend represents a 2% increase on 2009.