Smith report recommendations for BFI’s role

From the Financial Times today:

Smith report maps direction for British film

By Salamander Davoudi

The British Film Institute, the UK government film agency, will have its remit broadened significantly after a policy review recommended a series of initiatives ranging from changes in funding to greater regional participation and the co-ordination of a UK-wide film festival.

The report, led by Lord Smith, the former Labour culture secretary, was aimed at identifying barriers to growth for UK film. “The changes the organisation needs to make as a consequence will have to be significant and far-reaching,” the report said.

The BFI “must take a 360 degree approach to its responsibilities”, it added.

“A Future for British Film” makes 56 recommendations, including that profits from films be returned to the production companies for reinvestment instead of the original funding bodies. The money used to be considered a loan and was expected to be paid from the film’s income. The panel singled out a special allowance for animation development.

“The aim of the panel is to empower the producer to secure more of a financial stake in its next film, this will help production businesses to control at least in part the means of exploiting their productions. This will make these firms more attractive to external investors,” it says.

Lottery funding to support film will increase from the present £27m to more than £40m by 2014.

In its discussion of “clear obstacles” to the industry, the report highlighted the varying levels of engagement in British film by UK broadcasters.

It recommended that the government initiate “immediate discussions” with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB to agree commitments to support British film.

Should this approach prove unproductive, “the government should look at legislative solutions.”

The BBC investment of £12m in UK film each year should be increased “if possible”, the report said, adding that the number of recent British films shown on terrestrial television by the BBC and ITV as a percentage of total films broadcast was “consistently low over the last three years”.

“BSkyB’s scale and reach mean that if it were able to make even modest changes to its approach to acquiring UK films this could have a “disproportionately positive effect on the whole sector,” it said.

“We also understand that independent distributors have concerns about their access to the BSkyB pay-TV platform.

“Such issues may act as a constraint on the ability of independent distributors to invest resources in cinema releases and acquiring rights.

“As a consequence audience choice is … more limited … there is a negative effect on innovation and growth of the market for film in the UK is limited.”

The BFI should create a joint venture lottery fund to be used by partnerships between producers and distributors, the report said, and together with the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) and Arts Council England establish a development fund for digital innovation with an eligibility criteria that is “more open” than typically associated with film funds.

It called on studios and cinema operators to find a new model for digital print fees which it said were often “considerably higher than before” and were “limiting the availability of certain titles to a broader audience”.

By the end of 2012 as many as 90 per cent of UK screens will be digital with conversion of the entire UK by mid 2013, according to data from the Cinema Exhibitors Association.

Lottery funding used to be apportioned by the now-defunct UK Film Council. The BFI, which is to hold all recouped funding in trust, subsequently took on many of its responsibilities.

The report recommended that the BFI shape proposals for the recoupment of lottery funds for development and production to provide incentives for further investment in film.

Independent British films’ share at the box office remains low at an average of 5.5 per cent between 2001 and 2010.

“People want to see British movies but the percentage actually seen by the overall audience in UK cinemas remains far too low,” noted the report.

“If we’re ever going to crack this conundrum we have to ensure that filmmakers understand and think about their audience at the same time as they strive to express their creativity.”

The nine-strong panel recommended the development of a British film brand, which could take the form of an annual British film week and a register of British film.

The BFI will help local film clubs and societies in areas of rural depravation or isolation. “There is a real concern that the Department for Education may be seeking to withdraw its support for film education,” said the report, “and we received a strong message” that that support must continue.

It recommends the government introduce legislation to make it a criminal offence to record films shown in cinemas. According to industry estimates, about 90 per cent of unlawful copies of films originate from illicit recordings.

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