The British Film Institute has reacted with a mix of stoicism and dismay to the news (confirmed today) that the new UK coalition Government has scrapped plans for a National Film Centre. UKFC-BFI merger now looking shakier.
The abandonment (at least for now) of the long-cherished dream for the Film Centre comes as the DCMS (Department Of Culture, Media and Sport) has announced cuts of $108m (£73m) as part of “its further contribution to reducing the fiscal deficit.”
“I today’s very challenging financial climate we understand the difficulty of making decisions of this kind and fully expect to play our part. We had already anticipated that the Government would not be able to afford investment in the BFI Film Centre at this time and knew that we would face a challenge on the project, but we remain committed to taking it forward,” a BFI spokesperson commented.
However, the spokesperson added pointedly: “We are concerned that film is bearing the brunt – over 50% of the department’s cuts that have been announced are coming from film.”
Amid the details of cuts, the better news for the British film industry as a whole came in the fine print of the DCMS Statement. This appeared to confirm that neither UK Lottery Funding for film nor the current film tax relief are under immediate threat. The statement revealed that Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey will shortly undertake a reassessment of Government support for film.
“This reassessment will take account of the impact of Government financial support for film, including National Lottery funding, as well as the impact of film tax relief, but neither will be reviewed as part of this reassessment,” the statement read.
“As has been said time and time again, film is a critical component of Britain’s future cultural and economic prosperity, so we welcome the Minister’s commitment to reviewing Government’s support for film. Our one plea is that this is done very quickly,” the BFI spokesperson commented of the review.
The decision to cancel the Film Centre has been announced only months after former Prime Minister Gordon Brown come to the BFI’s South Bank home in person (last October) to announce that the Government had set aside $66m (£45m) for the film Centre, which was expected to cost $245m (£166m).
There are signs of strain in the relationship between the BFI and public film body, the UK Film Council, from which the BFI receives its grant-in-aid. The two bodies have been in merger negotiations since last year.
Further clarification about any possible marriage between the two bodies may come as soon as Monday, when a Parliamentary question has been tabled by Ben Bradshaw MP asking whether the Government plans to merge UKFC and the BFI.
One BFI source suggested today that any merger is now “extremely unlikely to happen.”
In October 2007, the then Labour Government pledged £25 million for securing the future of the UK’s national and regional film archives.
One crumb of comfort that the BFI can draw from the DCMS cuts is the news that the Government still plans to fund the building of a new film store to safeguard the National Film Archive.
“We are relieved that vital monies to save the BFI National Collections are secure,” a BFI spokesperson said.
The DCMS announced today that although the BFI’s digital access project “is not affordable at the present time,” the Government will be inviting the BFI to explore “alternative methods of support and delivery.”
Commenting on the cancellation of funding for the BFI Film Centre, Minister Ed Vaizey said:
“It is obviously disappointing that the severe financial problems facing Britain mean that the Government can’t contribute at present to the BFI Film Centre. Although we are unable to commit to some large scale capital investment projects while tackling this unprecedented deficit, I am planning to fundamentally reassess how the Government supports film in this country. I want to make sure that we are supporting the film industry so that it is ready for the challenges it will face in the decade to come, and that we make sure every pound of public money we spend gives the maximum benefit.”