This week, the first 16 UK Film Council staff move over to the BFI as part of the absorption of UKFC functions into a new BFI super-structure. There’s a good deal of common sense at work in the new entity.
Tomorrow, April 1, marks the day when the British Film Institute officially houses new functions such as Lottery and Grand-in-Aid funding which were previously administered by the UK Film Council. The UKFC is now winding down and will finally close its doors by July.
16 key executives move across the West End of London from the UKFC offices near Oxford Circus to the BFI offices off Tottenham Court Road tomorrow; another 24 will trickle over in the next two months.
It’s the culmination of over a year of mayhem in the publicly funded UK film arena since the UK Film Council was summarily abolished by the new government last March. The UKFC decision sparked a wave of outrage that has run and run, and even this week Gary Oldman, interviewed at the Empire Awards, said that the end of the UK Film Council meant the end of lower budget independent British films.
How Oldman reached that conclusion is a mystery. The development and production funding activities of the UKFC remain intact under the same curators and the BFI will continue to invest in independent British film as the UKFC did before. The P&A funds are also safe.
Speaking to BFI director Amanda Nevill this week, I felt there was a good deal of common sense at work in the new leaner structure. The BFI has lost 20% of its grant-in-aid and already lost staff late last year; it now absorbs 40 UKFC staff and their activities. The cuts in overhead are dramatic, the philosophy behind the new infrastructure is rooted in thorough consultation with industry.
The transfer to BFI comes in the week that Arts Council England named the arts organizations that will suffer as a result of the £100m cut from its budget in October. In the final analysis, film seems to have done pretty well in the government’s austerity drive, although few will forget or forgive the shocking, cavalier and consultation-free manner with which the UKFC abolition was announced.
Nevill is determined that the BFI be a cheerleader and lobbyist for the industry but, she says, government and industry should communicate freely and the BFI will not obstruct that direct communication nor act as a conduit between them. She also adds that no single organization can be held responsible for building a sustainable film industry in the UK.
Both pledges show a different approach from the UKFC which perhaps became too preoccupied with being the industry’s mouthpiece to government as well as dwelling too heavily on the sustainability issue which is surely not in the grasp of any public organization.
The BFI will stand alongside the various trade organizations like PACT, FDA, Directors UK and the CEA in the collective voice of the industry, said Nevill.
While some of the UKFC functions have been left without funding, much remains in place and Nevill says the focus will be on directing money towards risk-taking films and talent that need them.
Indeed, the power to make change has never lain with a public organization, it lies at the door of the commercial industry itself. And let’s face it, the independent industry in the UK is no slouch. Our independent distributors are some of the most successful in the world, as are our independent producers. Our studios are full, our shores full to bursting with talent and our film and TV exports are probably bigger than those from any other international territory. Oh, and a British film just won the best picture Oscar.
It’s time to move on.