Members of the UK film industry have reacted with anger, bafflement and dismay at today’s shock DCMS decision to abolish the UK Film Council.

“What does it mean?” asked David Thompson of Origin Pictures, who said that he had first thought the news was an April Fool’s Day trick. “It’s hard to say what’s behind this,” Thompson said. He added that the UKFC was already restructuring and was “leaner and meaner” in the face of the economic downturn.

“It’s hard to say more without having a clue of what they (the Government) are proposing.” He added: “if the UKFC funding is cut, it would be a chronic blow.”

Others expressed bafflement that the abolition of the UKFC came only weeks after the new coalition Government had said it wasn’t going to merge the UKFC with the British Film Institute.

The DCMS Statement today talked about Government “establishing a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute.” Did this mean that the BFI was going to take over the investment of Lottery money in film production? Nobody seemed to know yet.

What was clear today is that even the best connected industry figures were caught on the hoof by the Government move. “My reaction is one of total surprise and horror,” said film finance expert John Graydon of RSM Tenon. “It seems to have been done without any kind of consultation, at least with the industry. It has come completely out of the blue. I don’t understand how a decision like that can be reached without any thought or consultation.”

Jane Wright, Managing Director & Executive Director at BBC Films, was striking a similar tone. “I found the news deeply shocking. It really did come out of the blue,” Wright said.

She added that the abolition of UKFC was bound to cause “uncertainty” in British production circles. “I don’t fully understand, even with the missives that have gone out, what this exactly means for the range of activities which the Film Council did.”

Paul Trijbits of Ruby Films was yet another industry executive in shock. “This is literally a bolt from the blue for everybody in the industry, including the UK Film Council,” Tribijts said. “There has been no consultation, no evaluation, very little consideration of how to take forward the different parts that the film industry does. The (DCMS) statement begs many more questions than it answers.”

UK producers group Pact reacted in a subdued manner. Chief executive John McVay said: “We strongly welcome the coalition’s commitment to the two most important interventions in the market, namely the National Lottery funding and the film tax credit. These both ensure that we can produce indigenous feature films and also attract inward investment which, combined, sustain our vibrant, dynamic and successful film industry and we look forward to working with the government as they develop their thinking on how this essential public support will be delivered in future.”

Lord Puttnam, president of the Film Distributors’ Association, said in a statement: “Today’s announcement proposing the abolition of the UK Film Council, which would appear to have come out of the blue, will take some time to digest fully. Over the past decade, the Film Council has been a layer of strategic glue that’s helped bind the many parts of our disparate industry together. It is sure to be widely missed, not least because the UK cinema industry is in the midst of a fundamental transformation at the heart of which is digital roll-out. On the welcome premise that Government and Lottery support for film will continue, I look forward to discussing ways in which a new, coherent plan for film can be developed and implemented to benefit audiences throughout the UK.”

Notting Hill director Roger Michell of Directors UK, the professional body for UK film and television directors, called the announcement “catastrophic… for the film and the broader creative sector.” Michell, whose credits include Venus, Enduring Love and television series The Buddha Of Suburbia, continued: “We should not forget that film is an industry and one in which the UK excels both at home and abroad. We employ 36,000 people and contributed over £4.5bn to GDP in 2009. This is an astonishing decision by government – without the merest hint of consultation with either the wider film industry or the UK Film Council itself. The decision flies in the face of economic sense.”

More on the UKFC news:
UK government to shut UK Film Council

UK industry reacts with shock

Opinion: Black day for British film

Hunt says he wants to hear opinions on UKFC plans

Woodward says closing target is April 2012

UKFC: A snapshot

UKFC by the numbers/box office hits