Time Out on UKFC demise

From Time Out yesterday:

The UK Film Council is dead. Let’s give the British Film Institute a chance

The closure of the public body which put money into films like ‘Hunger’ and ‘In the Loop’ is a sad thing. But might this be an exciting new time for British cinema, asks Dave Calhoun?

Ten years ago, the then Culture Secretary Chris Smith gave birth to the UK Film Council, a body designed to boost homegrown film-making by investing Lottery and public money in British talent. Some of the strongest films in which the UKFC invested were ‘Vera Drake’, ‘Hunger’, ‘In the Loop’ and ‘Man on Wire’, and with less fanfare the UKFC has done good work to help the release of smaller films by funding extra posters and prints, as well as spearheading the switch to digital projection. Then, last week, Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt pulled the plug on the show. The move came without ‘any real discussion’, according to UKFC chief John Woodward, and even its critics agreed it wasn’t much of a tenth birthday gift. As I write, Facebook, Twitter, an online petition and the letters page of The Guardian are alive with calls to save the UKFC.

Without doubt, the end of the UKFC is a blow, and directors like Mike Leigh and Mike Figgis have understandably spoken out against the move, not least because it creates huge uncertainty at a tough time. But should we run along uncritically with all this surprise and shock? The end of the UKFC is being portrayed as Tory axe-wielding, but the truth is, firstly, that the trouble started under Labour and, secondly, that a new approach to how and where we spend public money on film could be a good thing for British cinema.

To understand last week’s move, you need to know that last August Labour culture minister Sion Simon proposed a merger of the UKFC with the British Film Institute, the country’s other big film body, which manages the National Film Archive, runs BFI Southbank and organises the London Film Festival. The plan was to cut costs and prevent overlap. It’s now clear that the Tory solution is to run away with Labour’s plans by getting rid of one body entirely – and the UKFC was always more vulnerable. The UKFC was a New Labour quango and the sort of bureaucracy for which the Tories have been sharpening their knives for ages. Moreover, the BFI is a charity, protected by royal charter – it can’t be dismantled. Even more importantly, the BFI is a cultural body; too many of the UKFC’s activities existed to help the industry turn a greater profit – is that really the job of money designated to promote culture? Neither did it help the UKFC’s cause that so many of its execs were on high salaries compared to those doing similar jobs at the BFI. It looked bad.

Behind closed doors, the BFI and its canny chairman Greg Dyke will be thrilled. Not only have Dyke and his colleagues fended off talk of a merger but they find themselves back in the pre-2000 position of being funded by government rather than in the pay of the UKFC, an organisation too often embarrassed to treat film as culture. In the end, that was Chris Smith’s biggest mistake: to subjugate the BFI, a cultural body, to the UKFC, a trade one. That mistake has been corrected.

Yet this is no time for dancing on tables. Whatever its faults, the UKFC performed a crucial role in developing and producing British films. There has been wild talk about the UKFC only producing box-office disasters like ‘Sex Lives of the Potato Men’ or big films in no need of support. Neither is true. Filmmakers like Andrea Arnold and Steve McQueen needed government help and received it from the UKFC. It’s these filmmakers we should now be most concerned about.

However, let’s not call time on British independent film just yet. The Tories’ announcement last week suggested that the money given to film by the UKFC – £15m a year – is safe (even if the exact figure is not clear). The big question is: who will dish it out? Will the BFI be asked to manage a production fund, as it did pre-2000, producing films like ‘Under the Skin’, ‘Gallivant’ and ‘Love is the Devil’ ? Will the Arts Council assume a role? Or will a new body be established, with key roles for BBC Films and Film Four?

I think the most exciting – and daring – result would be for the BFI to take on the most essential of the UKFC’s work – meaning that a cultural body would be putting money into film as culture. But at the same time we must redefine what needs support. If the demise of the UKFC means that films on the level of ‘The Constant Gardener’, ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ – all of which received UKFC help – have to go without, so be it. With its archive and twin focus on heritage and education, the BFI celebrates film as an art form, a principle that should apply to future funding. Our culture needs raw visions, new talent, difficult stories. We need to take risks. We need to be prepared to put money into films that might not make a single penny but which nurture and develop both talent and audiences and which progress British cinema rather than just repeating past successes and chasing foreign awards. Let’s ask ourselves why we give public money to film. Is it to provide support to an art form? Or is it to provide extra capital to an industry? I’d argue that it’s the former – and no organisation is better placed to honour that approach than the BFI.

Author: Dave Calhoun

More on the axing of the UKFC

Letters in the Guardian business section today:

Grubby deals behind the axing of the Film Council
The circumstances in which the government proposes to abolish the UK Film Council (A move that impoverishes us all, G2, 27 July) are extraordinary. The decision, based neither on consultation nor independent research, must be either entirely random, or driven by ideology run mad. That makes a considered response difficult.

Among those who now join the outcry against this arbitrary act there are many, like myself, who were highly critical of the previous government’s film policy, and particularly of the way in which the Film Council was constituted and how it spent public money. One of the key criticisms was that the British Film Institute, with its educational, critical and cultural remit, had been partially sacrificed to the more commercially oriented UK Film Council. Adjusting that balance would have been welcome, but it seems most unlikely that this is the intention.

The great danger is that the BFI, with its extremely limited resources, will be expected to pick up some of the work previously done by the Film Council. Even if the BFI, in exchange, escapes cuts or receives a small increase in funding, any radical broadening of its aims in this direction would put an impossible strain on it. This, at least, is a development we should be ready to resist. The BFI already indirectly performs a great service to the industry by preserving and promoting its past products and by engendering a love of film which goes beyond the desire to see the latest Hollywood release.

Margaret Dickinson

• All sympathy to those about to lose their jobs, but the UK Film Council has been hoist by its own petard. It was set up in 2000 in a grubby backstairs manoeuvre by certain figures in New Labour, the British film industry and (treacherously) the British Film Institute, the body it was designed to supplant. The conspirators’ strategy was to prise film-making out of the BFI, shed that body’s concern with culture and embark on a relentlessly business and training discourse aimed at making British cinema more like Hollywood.

Along the way, as the director and critic Alex Cox has indicated (A very British cop-out, G2, 15 August 2007), it shovelled heaps of sterling into the already bulging pockets of the American majors. The plotters did not foresee that an incoming Conservative-led government might just take the council’s boasting about how business-friendly it was at face value. If the market is so responsive to British film, went the Tory thinking, then the market can handle it without the Film Council. It is profoundly ironic that it is the BFI – despised by the plotters of 2000 as a ghetto peopled by unwordly intellectuals – which will survive while the council goes under.

Colin McArthur

BFI response to DCMS proposals

From Screen Daily today:

BFI says it will ‘work in collaboration’ with UK Government
27 July, 2010 | By Wendy Mitchell
BFI says it welcomes news that it will report direct to Government; says UKFC has done ‘really important work’ over past decade.
In response to yesterday’s news about the abolition of the UK Film Council, the British Film Institute issued the following statement today:
“We welcome the announcement that the BFI will report direct in to Government, alongside the other national cultural bodies.
“In these challenged economic times, we appreciate that Ministers have to make very difficult decisions, but we are glad to see absolute commitment from central Government that its support both for film culture and for lottery funding and tax incentives remains intact. We will work in collaboration to achieve this.
“We acknowledge and pay tribute to the really important work that has been carried out by the UK Film Council over the past ten years.”

Different views on demise of UKFC

From the Guardian today:

Scrapping UK Film Council may be good for British film
Innovative film-makers have fallen by the wayside in the search for box-office success. This is our chance to rethink British film
Daniel Trilling
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 July 2010 11.00 BST
Whichever way you look at it, the announcement by the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt that the UK Film Council is to be abolished makes for uncomfortable. The organisation, which employs 75 people, has funded over 900 productions since its formation in 2000. Andrew Pulver, over at the Guardian’s film blog, rightly describes the announcement as a “hammer blow” to the country’s film industry, one that seems particularly bizarre as it was one of the few areas of the arts that actually saw a return on its investment. While the government has said it will continue to make lottery money available for films, it is not clear who will distribute this money, or how it will be distributed.
We should not, though, let the shock of this announcement stop us seeing the shortcomings as well as the successes of the movie-making culture fostered by the UKFC in its 10 years of existence. A key element of Labour’s arts programme, the organisation took its structural cue from the City, with executive salaries well above the industry norm. Using a mix of lottery money and direct government subsidy, the UKFC has spent more than £300m – and the tax credit system it promoted has indeed enabled a commercial renaissance.
Yet, as Ryan Gilbey argued in the New Statesman last year, the industry has become hooked on recreating hit films modelled on the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral or The Full Monty. From Bend it Like Beckham to Calendar Girls to Slumdog Millionaire, the tendency has been towards feelgood, aspirational stories (not unlike the sentiments expressed in New Labour’s theme tune ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, in fact) aimed at a primarily American audience.
This is where an enlightened funding body should step in to promote riskier projects, but the box-office successes have arguably come at the expense of more innovative film-making. According to the critic and producer Colin MacCabe, the UKFC’s “aggressive commercial strategy” has frequently stifled creativity. Organisations like the British Film Institute Production Board, which funded experimental films, were abolished to make way for it, and the UKFC has often insisted on having the final cut on films it funds.
The past decade has not been a creative desert – Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and Steve McQueen’s Hunger are wonderful examples of daring British films with political bite and potential mass appeal. But the praise deservedly showered on their directors also serves as a reminder that others have been allowed to fall by the wayside.
Take Andrew Kötting, a unique British talent whose latest film, Ivul, is receiving positive reviews. The project, which was almost abandoned when Kötting failed to find the money to film it on the Scottish island of Jura, is a French production, filmed in France and featuring French actors. No bad thing in itself, but Kötting is an established director. How many promising young film-makers have seen their dreams stifled by the same lack of foresight?
In the long run, this week’s announcement could be good news for British film. Money is likely to be tighter, but there is an opportunity at least to rethink what kind of films we want to emerge from Britain in the years to come. It is encouraging that the government is now looking to work directly with the BFI, whose chair, Greg Dyke, has already fought hard to maintain the independence of his organisation.
Reasons for optimism are slim, however, as we must see this in the context of the coalition’s ideologically driven attack on public spending: in the culture department alone, 54 other bodies will be abolished, merged or “streamlined”. Hunt has already stated that he wants private donors to take a much greater role in funding the arts, which suggests that the commercial imperative for film-makers could become even stronger. Seeing one of the UK’s major arts bodies abolished at the stroke of a pen is scary indeed – but so is the thought that we might come to look back on the past decade as some sort of golden era for British cinema.
Film Council axemen could murder an industry

The government’s decision to shut down the UK Film Council is tragically naive. No other body will do a better job
Andrew Pulver
It was nothing short of a hammer blow. This morning, word came through of John Woodward’s email to UK Film Council staff informing them that the government was planning to shut them down. Then the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed it in a written statement at lunchtime. I was genuinely shocked. It felt like I’d nipped out for 10 minutes to get a pie and while I was out they closed the British film industry.
Reading the fine print is tricky. Can it really be the case that the Film Council will be killed, with nothing to take its place? The government has said that lottery funding of films will continue, but transferred to already existing organisations. (Who, exactly? The reason why the Film Council was created in the first place was that no one had proved competent in dealing with film industry funding in the past.) The British Film Institute was promoted with the phrase “strong relationship”, but the BFI was stripped of its production funding capability years ago, and was in any case preparing to merge with the Film Council. What’s happening there? And what about the Edinburgh and London film festivals, who have basically been directed and repositioned as part of a Film Council funding programme?
But first and foremost, what about the films? Are we seeing a return to the early 70s, when the sudden removal of US studio finance saw a catastrophic drop in the number of films made in the UK? What will happen to the films already in development and production that are reliant on Film Council money? The tabloid view of British film-makers may be of goateed beret-wearers sucking down cappuccinos in Soho, but the truth is every film is comparable to a three or four-year small business enterprise, with its own traumas of cash flow and income generation. If a large chunk of cash suddenly goes missing, the whole edifice will collapse. This decision could prove devastating to an entire generation of film-makers; for all its ups and downs, the Film Council has got involved with the likes of Armando Iannucci, Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, Peter Mullan, Sam Taylor-Wood, Kevin McDonald and Pawel Pawlikowski. How much credit the council can take for their film-making is up for debate, but it has at least functioned as the connective tissue between such disparate talents.
It’s also a tad ironic that this news comes as the Film Council has just been able to promote itself, and the British film industry as a whole, as exactly the kind of profit-generating outfit this government was supposed to like. It had also begun to feel like the wider industry had finally got used to its existence, and had stopped grumbling about the nature and scope of its funding decisions. (You suspect that any gatekeeping organisation would be subject to the same complaints of partiality.) Only the other day we had a meeting with a couple of senior Film Council executives who were positively messianic about their plans for trying to reinvigorate British cinema.
I can’t help feeling that this is a tragically naive decision by the government. I’ve spent a significant amount of my time as a Guardian film journalist reporting on the various attempts to disburse lottery funding, which began in the mid-1990s. To summarise: first it was directly administered by the Arts Council, on a project-by-project basis, in the same way as theatre shows or brass bands. This set-up was clearly inadequate — for keeping out both naive amateurs who wasted the money and smart operators who just ripped them off. In 1997 the franchise system was dreamed up. This meant established outfits would band together, offer a slate of projects, and be given a large amount of money. That system proved unwieldy and unworkable. It was quietly abandoned when the Film Council was set up in 2000 to operate like a mini studio, allowed to invest in big films (Gosford Park, The Constant Gardener) and also help out with small (Better Things, Red Road), as well as funding ancillary activities like the Independent Cinema Office, print and advertising assistance, and digital projection. The Film Council was essentially the most sophisticated method found so far to deal with the lottery money, and I simply don’t believe any existing body will do a better job.
Of course, there will be many quiet sniggers of satisfaction at today’s news in various parts of the film industry, though anyone with any sense will know that financial stability is vital for a healthy industry and that financial chaos doesn’t help anyone. I can’t help recalling the last cataclysm to hit the British film industry, the closure of FilmFour in 2002 — though that was a commercial rather than a political decision. If there’s any comfort to be taken, it’s that Channel 4’s film unit went through terrible times, but eventually re-emerged triumphant, with Slumdog Millionaire et al. British films will still get made; some will be great, and some terrible. But destroying the Film Council isn’t helping anybody.

DCMS proposal to abolish UKFC

From Netribution today:

The DCMS Announcement

DCMS improves efficiency and cuts costs with review of arm’s length bodies

26 July 2010

A number of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) 55 public bodies are set to be merged, abolished or streamlined as part of the Government’s drive to cut costs and increase transparency, accountability and efficiency, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced today.

Mr Hunt has proposed a number of changes, including:

abolishing the UK Film Council and establishing a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute. This would support front-line services while ensuring greater value for money. Government and Lottery support for film will continue;

abolishing the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to focus efforts on front-line, essential services and ensure greater value for money. Government support for museums, libraries and archives will continue; and

merging UK Sport and Sport England, creating a more effective structure to deliver elite sport success and a wider sports legacy from the 2012 games.

Some key functions carried out by these bodies would be transferred to other, existing organisations. DCMS will do further work over the summer to finalise the details and timing of these changes. It will also continue to look at its other arm’s length bodies and explore further opportunities to improve accountability and efficiency. 
Mr Hunt said:

“The Government is committed to increasing the transparency and accountability of its public bodies, while at the same time reducing their number and cost.

“Many of these bodies were set up a considerable length of time ago, and times and demands have changed. In the light of the current financial situation, and as part of our drive to increase openness and efficiency across Whitehall, it is the right time to look again at the role, size and scope of these organisations.

“The changes I have proposed today would help us deliver fantastic culture, media and sport, while ensuring value for money for the public and transparency about where taxpayers’ money is spent.”

Further proposals include:
abolishing the Advisory Council on Libraries and winding up the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel;

abolishing the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites;

declassifying the Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships and transferring its functions to another body; and

declassifying the Theatres Trust so it can act as an independent statutory advisory body.

DCMS is also:
looking at its responsibility for heritage and the built environment, and considering the role and remit of English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund;

considering the role of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment;

discussing with the Church of England the merits of declassifying the Churches Conservation Trust; and

considering whether to change the status, role and functions of Visit England and Visit Britain.

In addition, DCMS confirmed today that it intends to merge the National Lottery Commission with the Gambling Commission, subject to further consideration of the business case.
Notes to Editors
1. Key activities currently carried out by the UK Film Council will continue, including Lottery funding and work in support of film certification for tax purposes. DCMS will now consider options for transferring those responsibilities to other organisations. As a charity, the British Film Institute (BFI) is not within the scope of this review, but the Government is committed to its long term future. DCMS will now consider how to build a more direct relationship between the BFI and Government.

2. The merger of the National Lottery Commission and the Gambling Commission was announced by the then Chancellor in the Budget on 24 March 2010. DCMS is working with both bodies on the merger which will improve efficiency while preserving appropriate and effective regulation of both sectors. 

3. Any necessary legislative changes would be made through the Cabinet Office’s Public Bodies Bill, which is due to be introduced in the autumn. 

4. Where proposed changes have implications for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland we will work closely with them to finalise proposals.

Full article at: