Lord Puttnam tracks UK government backing for film over the last century in a new article, claiming the culture secretary has betrayed his own party’s role in the evolution of the industry.
David Puttnam, the veteran UK producer and Labour peer, has charged UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt with betraying the work previous Conservative governments did in revitalizing the film industry and challenged him to engage in a public forum to explain his actions in abolishing the UK Film Council.
Writing in The New Statesman this week, Puttnam traces the history of UK film funding from the introduction of government support for the industry in 1927 (a Conservative initiative) to the creation of the National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC) in 1949 and the institution of the Eady Levy on cinema tickets in 1957.
He writes that even though Margaret Thatcher’s government abolished the Eady Levy and the NFFC in 1984, she also laid the foundations for the industry’s recovery six years later.
Puttnam himself attended a meeting she summoned with industry representatives at Downing Street in 1990 which led to the creation of the British Film Commission, the European Co-Production Fund and a dedicated tax break. John Major’s government consequently agreed to the use of Lottery funding for film production.
While applauding the “decent track record” of British Screen Finance, the private body part-financed by a government grant, he says that the eighties were “barren years for British film production” and that British Screen’s budget was too small to enable it to make a meaningful difference.
“Consequently, when Labour assumed power in May 1997, the landscape for British cinema looked very different from the way it had been in 1990,” he writes. “But film policy continued to lack any real strategic coherence.” Hence the creation of the UKFC in 2000.
“Tragically instead of building on everything that has been learned, the present government has set about destroying the UK Film Council – to little purpose and with even less of a plan. In doing so, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt would appear to have acted without any sense of the role that his party, and Margaret Thatcher and John Major in particular, played in breathing life into an industry that, in 1990, had still to recover from the blow dealt to it by the abolition of the Eady Levy and the withdrawal of tax allowances.”
“At some point, long after Hunt and his team have left the Department for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport, the work of rebuilding a coherent film policy, organised and controlled by a single body, will have to start all over again.”
Puttnam concludes by suggesting that Hunt engage in a public debate “with me and others… so that we might better understand why he and his coalition partners, in making their decision to demolish the UK Film Council, failed to take account of any of the lessons of recent history.”
The article comes as the UK government continues to consult with industry over where the various UKFC functions should end up. At the Screen UK Film Summit this week, minister for culture, communications and the creative industries Ed Vaizey said that he should be ready to announce plans by the end of the year, some six months after the announcement was first made. (Full video of Vaizey’s speech is on ScreenDaily.com)