The announcement yesterday from Jeremy Hunt that the UK Film Council is to be abolished came as one heck of a shock. After a couple of appalled, sweary outbursts on Facebook and Twitter, I had a nose at the Wikipedia entry and had a bit of a think about what it is and what it does.
Film-makers like Michael Booth don’t seem too bothered. In fact, he and many others are looking on it as good news. Another X&HTeam-mate, Nick Scott, has also pointed out that his major source of funding isn’t the Film Council. It’s Full Tilt Poker. Both these gentlemen have found innovative ways to get their films funded and out to their audiences that don’t include an agency they viewed as bloated, corrupt, and in Michael’s case a shill for US interests.
It’s true that for the kind of film makers that I count as friends, the end of the Film Council can be met with a cautious cheer. Accusations of cronyism and snobbery have been rife since the council was formed ten years ago. You’re fine as long as you want to make a certain kind of film, with a certain approach. Let’s look at the kind of films that have benefitted from Film Council funding over the past decade.
(The list below is a selection, taken from the Film Council’s Wikipedia page)
James Marsh’s Oscar-winning Man on Wire; Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop (Sundance 2009); Jane Campion’s Bright Star; Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank; Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’ (Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals 2009); Sally Potter’s Rage (Berlin Competition 2009); Noel Clarke’s Adulthood (BAFTA Rising Star); Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Cannes, Palme d’Or); Shane Meadows’s This is England (BAFTA, Best British Film); Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void (BAFTA, Best British Film); Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (Cannes, Jury Prize);
Paul Andrew Williams’s London to Brighton (Edinburgh International Film Festival, Best New Director); Alexis Dos Santos’s Unmade Beds (also at Berlin and Sundance 2009); Duane Hopkins’s Better Things(Cannes, Critics’ Week),
Mike Leigh’s award-winning Happy-Go-Lucky; Oliver Gerald McMorrow’s Franklyn; Christopher Smith’s Triangle; Oliver Parker’s Dorian Gray; Stephen Frears’ Cheri; Bob Weide’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People; Anand Tucker’s And When Did You Last See Your Father?; Julian Jarrold’s Brideshead Revisited; Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson’s St Trinian’s; Rupert Wyatt’s The Escapist; Roger Michell’s Venus; Vito Rocco’s Faintheart; Gabor Csupo’s The Secret of Moonacre.
Notice anything? Two horror films, one of which is a classic adaptation. One fantasy. No SF. In fact, genre movies are given short shrift by the Council in general, despite the fact that they are proven to be popular money makers. Instead, the UKFC have a proven record of funding costume fluff, worthy dramas and limp comedies. Replacing this flawed quango with something more accountable, effective and supportive of the kind of films that people actually want to see would be a good thing. Right?
The problem is that, at the time of writing, we have fuzzy assurances of the DCMS “establishing a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute… Government and Lottery support for film will continue” instead of any firm framework of what it likely to replace it. A £15M hole has opened up in the financial landscape of British film, and we have no idea what’s planned to fill it.
Yesterday’s announcement is an enormous kick in the nads for the industry. The message Jeremy Hunt has sent is perfectly clear. With that announcement, there is no government agency supporting the film output of this country. The Film Council was flawed. But it was a rallying point, a first step, if nothing else something to shout at. That’s all gone, vacuumed away in a moment, without consultation.
There must be a ton of productions whose delicate jenga of deals and agreements set in place to fund their film are now wobbling dangerously as the vital piece of Film Council-negotiated money vanishes without a trace. Film funding is a fraught, complex and tricky business. Just look at the opening credits of any low to no budget film, and see how many different agencies can be involved. The loss of one will kill a lot of movies, which may already be spending money in pre-production that they no longer have. This has knock-on effects to hundreds of production and post-production workers.
Until there’s a very clear announcement on how Jeremy Hunt plans to help fund and support British film, I won’t celebrate the end of the UK Film Council.
In closing, I’ll expand the argument. This is a further example of the kind of targets the coalition government are focussing on to make swingeing cuts. The announcement for the end of the Film Council also included the abolition of The Museums, Libraries and Archive Council, declassifying the Theatres Trust, and “looking at the roles” of English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Theatres and museums across the country have already had their budgets slashed, and our libraries are under threat. Following recent attacks on the BBC and NHS, the picture is clear. Cuts are being made to public services, art, culture and heritage funding. Soft targets, and historically the ones that Tories will go at first, regardless of the financial shenanigans in the City that got us into money problems in the first place.
I would recommend a read of Gary Younge’s piece in the Guardian that spells all this out in much more detail. I can only add this. Cutting the Film Council because it doesn’t do it’s job is one thing. Cutting it to make an idealogical point is quite another.
On the Pleased Sheep forums Jonathon Gems, screenwriter of films like the Michael Radford directed “1984” and “Mars Attacks” makes a great case for using the end of the UKFC as a springboard to relaunch the British Film industry.