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.
• 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.