The proposed merger between the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute (BFI) will not go ahead unless the BFI’s brand and core activities are protected, according to BFI chairman Greg Dyke
Speaking to ScreenDaily, he said that the merger was not a done deal. “[The board] sees this as an investigation into whether there are advantages to doing it.
“We have got our own royal charter. We are a charitable organisation. We can’t be steamrollered. The reason we’re doing it is that we think there might be some real upside.”
The proposed merger, which was announced by Film Minister Sion Simon yesterday (August 20), has polarised the industry.
Christine Langan, creative director of BBC Films, said: “This won’t be easy but it does have a driving logic to it.”
Echoing remarks made yesterday by new UKFC Chairman Tim Bevan, she added that having one organisation will “simplify the message” when it comes to dealing with government and will also have “an economic and cultural benefit”.
“The BFI has been less relevant than it should be. There is no reason why it should be a dusty adjunct at one remove.”
But many in the industry believe that the BFI should retain full autonomy. Director-producer Don Boyd said: “The BFI should have an independent autonomous voice and should have the money to extend its great heritage. The Film Council is essentially a government department with a governing Council appointed as such.”
He added that aside from helping with funding issues for the BFI, the merger “would seem to have little merit”.
However, John Woodward, chief executive of the UK Film Council, said the benefits of having a single fiilm industry body were “pretty obvious” but that it is key that the work of both organisations is protected.
“Tim and Greg have explained very accurately what the potential prize is here for everyone in film, and if it can be done well then we have the best chance of protecting film and the film industry from most of the pain that’s heading in the direction of all publicly funded bodies in the next few years.
“It will now take some time for us all to dig into the detail and come up with the best structure for safeguarding the integrity of both the UKFC and BFI - and those detailed discussions haven’t even started yet.”
The proposed merger follows five years of staff cuts, down to 400 from 530, and a freeze on funding at the BFI. There has been frustration within the Institute that it currently receives its grant-in-aid of £16 million via the Film Council rather than directly through the DCMS.
The BFI has driven up its self-generated income in recent years and estimates that it will earn around $36.4m (£22m) this year from its various activities including IMAX cinema, BFI Southbank and the London Film Festival.