Tuesday, 27 July 2010

News Review - The Death of British Cinema? UK Film Council is scrapped by the British Govt.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.” Yesterday’s announcement that the Tory government is abolishing the U.K. Film Council confirms the suspicion that many of us Brits have in regards to their complete inability to support the arts and therefore understand Emerson’s astute point. The arts are one of Britain’s strongest exports, and as one of the articles from below will point out, the UKFC has seen the films they have invested money in over the last decade make an average profit of 400%. The UKFC has financially backed films with an array of diversity: Gosford Park, Streetdance 3D, The Constant Gardener, Bend it Like Beckham, Bright Star, etc.

We were willing to throw money at banks which were haemorrhaging money, but we can no longer provide what is a paltry sum in terms of the government’s annual budget for a public body that was and is a terrific financial success? If you think that government’s decision is incorrect, then please sign this petition and get your friends to do so as well.

This decision could also be a bellwether for Britain's long term future as a major economy. Whereas India are spending $140 million to restore their classic films, the British government can no longer afford to spend £15 million a year to help produce current films. Could this be the beginning of the end for British cinema?  

The decision is short-sighted and foolish; it will have devastating effects for the long term future of an already dwindling British Industry – in 2003 there were 74 independent features made in the UK, last year there were only 40.

Best For Film set up the petition, and they go into more details in regards to the figures, thus demonstrating the buffoonery of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The UK film industry is one of our few sectors which has enjoyed consistent growth throughout the recession. Last year, its contribution to the economy was an extraordinary £4.3 billion – an increase of 50% on 2000, the year the UKFC was formed. UKFC-funded films have grossed in excess of £700 million worldwide, and its investments garner an average profit of 400%. Sorry, I’ll say that again – FOUR HUNDRED PER CENT. That’s £5 for every £1 you spend, and I defy any of Jeremy Hunt’s colleagues in the state-owned banks to offer us as good a rate.
Incredibly, the UKFC manages all this on a budget of only £15 million a year, much of which is money drawn from the countrywide tax on hope which is the National Lottery. This is compared to the £12 million being spent on the Pope’s controversial UK visit later this year, or the £7 billion which it’s costing us to host the Olympics – at its present budget, that’s enough money to run the UKFC for almost 467 years. Jeremy Hunt’s claims that destroying the UKFC was a cost-cutting measure are clearly specious, betraying his motives to be ideological rather than financial; for unclear reasons of its own, in attacking both the Film Council and the licence fee which funds the BBC the Conservative Party is holding a knife to the throat of contemporary British culture.

The article is absolutely correct to call out Jeremy Hunt’s claim that ‘destroying the UKFC was a cost-cutting measure’. The figures do not lie and it begs the question as to why they are demolishing such a profitable organisation. It may well be that they are making cuts for the sake of making cuts, because the sum invested in the UKFC will not help our economic recovery. Or perhaps David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ involves a world where we are all volunteers and none of us are artists?

                                          Jeremy Hunt - the man who could be responsible for destroying the British      film industry.

The Telegraph reports Mike Leigh’s outrage at the decision:
Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said that the abolition of the council would wipe out a layer of bureaucracy and ensure ''greater value for money''.
But Leigh, whose credits include Happy-Go-Lucky and Vera Drake, described the decision as "extremely worrying" and "totally out of the blue".
He said: "It's very hard to know what they are actually going to sustain and what they will abandon. It really is no way to operate.
''It's like if they suddenly said: 'We're abolishing the NHS' ... It's totally out of order.''
The UK Film Council was created in 2000, and has invested more than £160 million of Lottery funding into more than 900 films which has helped generate over £700 million at the worldwide box office.
It receives £30 million a year of Lottery money and around £25.5 million from the Government. 
Leigh calls out another one of Hunt’s hollow phrases as it is unclear to all of us how the government will proceed and exactly how they intend to get a better return than they are already receiving.

Andrew Pulver describes the move  as both a ‘hammer blow’ and ‘tragically naive’. His article is well worth reading in its entirety:
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...
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 setup 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.
If the system returns to films being approved on a case by case basis it will surely once again prove to be inadequate. The lack of a concrete proposal for a replacement for the UKFC is of great concern.

The BBC makes clear that although the BFI may be asked to do the UKFC’s work, they may not have the capacity to do so:
What remains unclear, however, is who or what will distribute lottery money after its proposed closure in 2012.
The British Film Institute, the organisation charged with preserving and promoting the nation's film and television heritage, would seem the most likely candidate.
The body is directly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and was mentioned by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt as he made Monday's announcement.
Last year it was reported the BFI and UK Film Council might merge in order to create what the DCMS called "a streamlined organisation".
Some at the BFI were said to be unhappy with the proposals, concerned they might come off worse were the bodies to combine operations.
Earlier this year the BFI lost the £45m funding it had been promised by the last government for a new film centre on London's South Bank.
How equipped is the BFI to take on the complex and time-consuming business of distributing public funds to film producers?
But damage will be done, and what’s most at risk is the continued existence of film in the UK, not as an entertainment medium but as a practised artform. Specifically, the prospects for British film-makers with ambitions to create truly great cinema seem very bleak indeed...
Yet Daniel Trilling of The Guardian suggests the decision to scrap the UKFC is a good idea:
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.
...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. 
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.
If only he had seen this excellent graphic on his own website, the main thrust of his argument, that the UKFC has somehow ‘stifled creativity’, he would recognise the diversity and quality of the films that they have backed is an impressive showing. When he states that ‘there is an opportunity at least to rethink what kind of films we want to emerge from Britain in the years to come’; this vague, non-committal phrase may as well have been uttered by Hunt.

Perhaps he should read Sight and Sound’s take on the matter, which makes clear just how much damage the scrapping of the UKFC could do to the British film industry:
But damage will be done, and what’s most at risk is the continued existence of film in the UK, not as an entertainment medium but as a practised artform. Specifically, the prospects for British film-makers with ambitions to create truly great cinema seem very bleak indeed...
And what the statistical yearbook tells us is that the independent film sector in the UK – the proving ground for all young film-makers – is under increasing pressure. Where there were 74 independent features made in 2003, in 2009 there were just 40. You might say that’s natural during a recession, but then the industry is wrongly seen as recession-proof – and the R&D side of it is most emphatically not. Given the apparent success of our industrial activity, it is remarkable how very few new directorial talents have been nurtured here in the past decade. Where are the new Shane Meadowses and Lynne Ramsays, let alone the new Ridley Scotts? The answer is, of course, that they’re out there, but they haven’t had the chances to develop that their forebears enjoyed...
The final sentence puts the whole discussion into perspective – where will the next important British director emerge from? Where will the next Hitchock, Nolan or David Lean hone his craft?


  1. I was dismayed by the axing of the new BFI centre, and, with this news coming on top of that decision, it certainly seems as if film is taking far more than its share of the cuts. Well done in bringing all these articles together here - I hope it isn't the death of British cinema, but it doesn't look good at all.

  2. @ Judy - Thank you for your kind words - it really is a sad state of affairs...we are still waiting to hear of a concrete proposal that will better the UKFC.

    A friend recently suggested that artist's are known for thriving 'in difficult conditions'. I have a lot of problems with that statement, but the main one in regards to the context of this debate is that film makers need money more than any of their artistic brethren. The fact that Lynch recently announced he is asking fans to fund his latest project says it all...

  3. Hang about. According to your quote above('The UK Film Council was created in 2000, and has invested more than £160 million of Lottery money....It receives £30 million a year of Lottery money and around £25.5 million from the Government.')

    So in 10 years, they've given out £160m of lottery money, after receiving £300m of lottery money and £255m of government money. By my maths, it appears that they use £395m for 'administration': £160m - ((£30m + £25.5m)*10). Which is over double what they give in grants/subsidy.

    Please tell me I'm reading your figures incorrectly. If not, and they really do use over twice as much money on admin as they give out, then they should have been closed down years ago.

  4. @Iuean - I think the main criticism that can be levelled at the UKFC is that it does spend too much money on 'quangos' and administrative costs.

    In an article in The Observer today, Jeremy Hunt's main argument appears to be that:

    "it is simply not acceptable in these times to fund an organisation like the UK Film Council, where no fewer than eight of the top executives are paid more than £100,000."

    Fair point, but surely you remove a sizeable number of those figures rather than disband the entire organisation? The Australian and Canadian film industries are swarming to pick up a large amount of the business they anticipate we will use, and when you couple this with the news that Tesco plan to enter the industry (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/aug/07/tesco-movie-trolleywood) and that this could well be the 'future' of British film, one cannot help feeling let down and depressed.

    Also, I would love to compare the administrative fees the UKFC charges with other countries...they must be doing something right as they are giving there investors a return of over 400%.

    Yes, the size of the administration of the UKFC needed to be decreased, but I suspect disbanding the entire body will prove to be both a short-sighted and naive move.

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