brexit 2

Source: Screen file

The British Film Institute (BFI) has said its priority is to ensure the UK remains in the European Union’s Creative Europe MEDIA programme after the country withdraws from the EU at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020.

“The BFI has done so much work with the department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] looking at the value of the [Creative Europe] programme. There would be some understanding of why there needed to be a different funding stream were we not able to be included in the Creative Europe programme,” Harriet Finney, director of external affairs for the BFI, told Screen just before the European Film Market in Berlinale.

The programme includes participation in the Europa Cinemas network which supports the release of UK films at participating European cinemas and of European films in the UK. It also includes funding for initiatives such as the ‘Promotion of Audiovisual Works Online’, for which MUBI and Curzon Cinemas have been recent recipients, and provides development slate funding for UK companies including The Bureau, Passion Pictures and Spring Films.

Coincidentally, the present iteration of the Creative Europe programme will also end on December 31. The BFI is continuing to make “very clear recommendations” to the UK government that the UK should remain part of the next MEDIA programme, running from 2021-2027.

This is one of the key points Finney said the BFI will be pushing with newly-appointed culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

However, when the UK and EU negotiate, Creative Europe will be included alongside other EU programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon, as part of a bigger discussion – and the framework of that discussion is yet to be set. In a worst-case scenario, if the UK does drop out of the next Creative Europe programme, the industry will be looking for Government to provide replacement funding.

Finney said she is feeling optimistic given reports the DCMS itself might have been scrapped as part of a radical overhaul of government. However, it has so far avoided that fate.

“The DCMS has obviously not been abandoned, I think it is quite interesting they actually now have an extra minister,” Finney said in reference to John Whittingdale, a former culture secretary, who has returned to the DCMS as a minister of state alongside Caroline Dineage.

“That’s good news from a DCMS perspective,” Finney explained. “The BFI’s relationship with the DCMS is in very rude health at the moment.”

Impassioned plea

Speaking to Screen on the eve of the EFM, Claude-Eric Poiroux, director-general of the Europa Cinema programme, made an impassioned plea for the UK to remain within the organisation. The MEDIA-backed network has more than 1,200 cinemas and 3,123 screen throughout 43 European countries.

“The UK’s departure would mean the loss of 30 cinemas in 20 different cities,” Poiroux pointed out. “British films would no longer be considered European and that would represent a loss for all our European countries throughout the network.”

UK films, he pointed out, are the second most popular in the network’s cinemas, accounting for 15% of admissions. That is a big hole for the network to fill.

“There is another dimension to this debate which is cultural and intellectual,” Poiroux continued. ”It would be impossible to consider Ken Loach, Mike Newell, Sally Potter, Mike Leigh, Nick Park, Danny Boyle, Sarah Gavron and Lynne Ramsay as non-European directors. That would be an abomination.

“The very concept of European cinema definitely includes British cinema. It’s important to consider the audience, French, Italian, Bulgarian or Spanish. Our European audiences don’t understand this exclusion of British films. It will create confusion about the very definition of European culture.”

Beyond membership of Creative Europe, the reality of what Brexit might mean to the UK media industry was underlined in mid-January when the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy gave a written answer in Parliament, “in cold, hard print” as one observer put it, confirming the Government had “no plans” to implement the EU Copyright Directive.

At the time the directive was approved in March last year, Directors UK, the professional association of UK screen directors, hailed it as “a momentous decision” and “a game changer for authors, directors and all European creators. It will modernise copyright and, for the first time, enshrine the right for authors, directors and musicians to receive fair remuneration for the use of our work online”.

However, some within the industry are sanguine, even relieved, the UK is not implementing the copyright directive.

“The online sharing provisions would have been cumbersome to enforce for our members, most of whom are SMEs with few legal resources,” said Max Rumney, deputy CEO and director of business affairs at producers’ organisation Pact.

“The articles dealing with fair remuneration of authors and performers were put in place to try to correct abuses that had taken place in some members states. However, UK indies already have a sophisticated system of collective agreements which they add to where necessary through negotiations with the unions and guilds. These ensure fair and proportionate remuneration for crew and talent who collaborate with producers.”

The fate of the copyright directive may have been down to timing. It was not due to be implemented until the summer of 2021, several months after the transition period is due to end.

By contrast, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), another source of intense and fractious lobbying over many years, is due to be implemented by September 2020, a few months before the transition period ends. The UK is therefore expected to adopt it as planned.

European Film Academy

Most European organisations appear to be opening their arms to the UK film industry, whatever might happen now.

“We reach out to our UK members and non-members who may be thinking of joining the Academy,” said producer Mike Downey, chairman of the European Film Academy.

“They will find solidarity in our number. It’s important for us to point out that the European Film Academy has always embraced all European films and their creators, EU and non-EU. British films are still eligible for the European Film Awards and British filmmakers are still more than welcome as EFA members.”

In the oft-repeated words of Finney, the message to the international industry at EFM is that it is “absolutely business as normal”. In the short term, UK companies can continue to apply for support from all Creative Europe schemes.

“What we’ve tried to do from the very beginning is to be extremely clear in all the things we do know and then the known unknowns,” said Finney, of what is already a turbulent transition period for the UK film industry.