UK Film Council Bites the Dust
Star of the US reboot of the A-Team, Liam Neeson called it “deplorable”, Screen England were “surprised and shocked” and Mike Leigh compared it to “scrapping the NHS”: on Monday the new coalition government decided to abolish the UK Film Council.
Set up in 2000 by the Labour government, the UK Film Council had an annual budget of £15m to invest in British films and employed 75 people. During the last decade – funded by the National Lottery – it has channelled about £160m into more than 900 films.
The decision came just as the UK Film Council annual statistical yearbook revealed (among a wealth of interesting statistics) that the film industry was thriving. Quoted in the Guardian article, John Woodward, CEO of the UKFC, was adamant that:
in terms of jobs, inward investment and contribution of cinema to the British economy, “there is absolutely no doubt the film sectors are firing on all cylinders”.
Indeed, the Guardian looked at a list of films (including The Constant Gardener, Fish Tank and Bright Star) comparing their initial investment with their final takings. It seems to show an admirable success rate for the UKFC.
Independent film makers might be railing against the decision to abolish the UKFC which “was staffed not by bureaucrats but by people who had made films, who loved film, who knew film-makers and understood their struggles“, but the body has often been accused of shovelling money into the already full pockets of American companies funding projects like the Bond franchise (that didn’t help MGM, did it?) and celebrating dubious fare like Mr Bean, Austin Powers and Notting Hill. David Gritten in the Telegraph labelled it obsessed with bureaucracy, “no more lovable an institution than any other quango, and in its 10-year history it was sometimes guilty of arrogance and some jaw-droppingly bad decisions…”
Dave Calhoun in Time Out had a more measured reaction to the government’s decision:
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.
The annual 15 million pound funding is reportedly safe – the only question that remains is who exactly will dish it out. Calhoun goes on in a more optimistic vein:
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.
So if more films like Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop – and fewer like the Sex Lives of the Potato Men- get funding, perhaps this decision actually bodes well for the future of British film.