Screen editor Mike Goodridge argues that the British government’s proposed abolition of the UK Film Council is a major betrayal to film-makers, the industry and the medium of film.
The proposed abolition of the UK Film Council (UKFC) is a shocking betrayal of the film industry by the new government, demonstrating a stunning refusal to appreciate the value of film.
Announced hastily on the day before Parliament goes into summer recess, the plan says that it will shut down the UKFC but continue Lottery film funding and the tax credit system. These responsibilities will be transferred to “other organisations,” presumably among them the British Film Institute (BFI).
Minister For Culture Ed Vaizey said today that he wanted the UKFC closed down by April 2012, kickstarting another long period of uncertainty in an industry which has just come out of the reorganisation of three Lottery funds into one Film Fund headed by Tanya Seghatchian. The move had been warmly received when it was confirmed a few months ago.
It’s sad that it’s so typical of the UK to throw its film industry into such turmoil. How many times have producers been forced to undergo a change of system, all the while losing momentum on their projects or in some cases having to close films down? While its EU compatriates France and Germany continue to nourish their local industries, the UK continues to undervalue its own.
The irony of course is that UKFC chief executive officer John Woodward has been particularly effective over the last decade in lobbying the governments (old and new) and educating them as to the inherent benefits of a flourishing film industry. That’s not just attracting Hollywood films to shoot in the UK but building a sustainable creative film industry that will generate jobs and revenues for UK businesses and presenting a view of the UK to the world that I would argue is just as powerful in the longterm as the Olympics.
The UKFC published an excellent document last year called The Cultural Impact Of UK Film 1946-2006 which argued, convincingly, that UK film was “one of the most powerful cultural agents of the last 100 years.”
Quite how that message will be sustained in the new revamp is anyone’s guess.
The UKFC housed any number of initiatives to stimulate the local industry from distribution and exhibition to training, film exports and the recently launched Innovation Fund which was intended to generate technological applications for making and marketing films. There is no suggestion that these fields will be supported in the future. Nor where the British Film Commission and all the vital work it does to attract production to the UK will land.
So an industry already rocked by the departure of bank funding, a drop in equity investment and the decline of traditional distribution revenue streams, now faces a public funding system in crisis. It feels like a return to the days of the ’80s and ’90s where public funding for film operated like a cottage boutique on the margins of government.
While the UKFC does its best to honour current commitments and campaigns to maintain existing funding levels, the danger is that the £15m (plus recoupment) currently invested in production is further reduced. This funding is small – chicken feed, perhaps – in relation to other government spending cuts, yet it is of paramount importance to UK film producers who are forced to reinvent the wheel with every budget they assemble.
Next steps of course will become apparent sometime after Parliament returns to session sometime after Sept 6. In a telling line in the proposal announcement, the Department Of Culture, Media & Sports (DCMS) says that it will now “consider how to build a more direct relationship between the BFI and government.”
The British Film Institute, which itself has had its share of bad news from the new government, is a world-class organisation which, by its own admission, is vastly different from the UKFC, a fact which was probably behind the recent abandonment of the proposed merger between the two. The BFI is a Royal Charter body designed to promote film and TV heritage and culture to the public, while the UKFC administered funding and support to the industry.
The BFI itself was keeping mum today, uncertain as to the implications of the DCMS statement; it is blessed by excellent management fortunately and, should the funding responsibilities fall under its aegis, it will no doubt effect their smoothest incorporation into its structure while appointing the appropriate curators.
The victim, of course, in this long drawn-out and painful transition will be the films and the film-makers from the UK.
More on the UKFC news:
UK government to shut UK Film Council