UK FilmCouncil chief executive officer John Woodward has delivered an impassioneddefence of the function of the Film Council.

Speakingthis week at an ACE (Ateliers Du Cinema Europeen) debate in London on 'The UK, A Suitable CaseFor Treatment,' Woodward sought to clarify the Council's position vis a vis the Government and thefilm industry.

'We sit between Government and industry but we are not an industrybody,' Woodward said. 'We are a Government body. We're owned by theGovernment. Our salaries are paid by the Government. Our function is partly totranslate (Government policy.) That's a very difficult task sometimes becausepeople in the (film) industry don't understand how Government thinks. The otherthing we do is look after the lottery money. '

'Our job,' he continued, 'is not to listen to the film industryand say is that what you want' OK, we're going to now go to the government andsay this is what the film industry wants you to do. That is not our job. Ifanybody thinks that, they are totally and utterly wrong. Our job is to give theGovernment impartial advice about what is sensible...and to try and mediatebetween the aspirations and ambitions of a rapacious film industry and what isachievable and realistic.'

Acknowledging that these were 'testing times' for British production,Woodward nonetheless insisted the situation now is unrecognisable from that in1984, when the British film industry reached its lowest ebb.

He called on critics not to focus on 'the immediate short-term threats buttry to focus on the opportunities too.' Pointing to the recent successesof Pride and Prejudice, The Constant Gardener and The Curse of the Were Rabbit, he said that the UK's market share last year was around24% when all British-qualifying films are considered. 'For all oursoul-searching, I would suggest that this is an industry that a lot of peopleoutside the UK would give their rights armsfor.'

He said that there was 'no point' in the Film Council trying to'build and construct' new policy objectives until the questionsregarding the new tax credits are settled.

The title of the debate was borrowed from Karel Reisz's 1966 British film, Morgan - A Suitable Case For Treatment.Woodward questioned whether the comparison was entirely apt. 'UnlikeMorgan, I'm not sure the British industry is ready yet to be washed up on thebanks of the river Thames in a gorilla suit and consigned to a mentalasylum.'

The Film Council boss went on to air reservations about proposals by ACEPresident (and former British Screen chief) Simon Perry for creating aredistributive mechanism along the lines of the old EadyFund (a levy on box-office takings that was abolished by the ThatcherGovernment in 1985.) Woodward pointed out that the market had changed a hugeamount since Eady days.

'What are you going to do about DVD, TV, or online' How can it becollected' How can it be enforced'' he asked. 'Are we talking about amechanism here to take money from profitable sectors of the industry and directthem solely to the benefit of the production sector''

Woodward's reservations were shared by other participants at the conference.David Elstein (BSAC/ SparrowhawkMedia) empahsised the diificultiesthat the film industry faces in persuading broadcasters to support an Eady-style fund. 'The television industry does notregard British cinema as even vaguely related to its fortunes,' Elstein said.

Buena Vista International (UK) chief Robert Mitchell described the new Eady idea as 'simplistic.' 'If you're goingto make anything acceptable to a major, there has to be a deal,' he said.