Monday 2 August 2010

The scrapping of the UK Film Council

Last Monday's shock announcement by the DCMS that it plans to axe the UK Film Council has taken everyone, the film industry as well as the public, by surprise. No-one saw this coming.

It's hard to know what to make of it. For one thing, the outcome is not explicit. Switching over to the Parliament TV website (at 15:15) to catch questions on Jeremy Hunt's statement, there was nothing for three-quarters of an hour, then a request from Ian Paisley Jr for the minister to outline "what direct support and ambition this government has for filmmaking in Britain."

Hunt's reply came across as both non-committal and eminently reasonable: "We haven't announced the decision, we have announced that we are considering doing this because we want to hear everyone's views. What I will say is that the UK Film Council spends £3 million pounds per annum on administration, we want to ask whether that money could be better used to support filmmakers."

Nevertheless the universal reaction to the news has been that the scrapping of the UK Film Council is a matter of fact.

The questions that spring immediately to mind are invariably selfish. What does it mean for my organisation? What does it mean for me as an individual, working within the film sector and as a consumer of film and media? What will happen to current activities, to core funding and to projects already in the pipeline?

Festival Director, David Gillam speaking on Tuesday on BBC H&W (1 hour in) implied that it could be painful to contemplate how the scenario might impact on the film festival three, two, even one year hence.

Certainly almost everything Borderlines Film Festival currently does has a UK Film Council logo sitting on the bottom of it. What will happen to the Regional Screen Agencies through which some of the UK Film Council funds and decision-making filter through to organisations like Borderlines and Flicks in the Sticks? Here is the Screen England statement on the Screen West Midlands website.

It seems to me that whatever the Film Council's bureaucratic shortcomings, the real danger is the scrapping of an infrastructure not only for film production but, even more significantly, for film distribution and exhibition in this country, for training and innovation. It all tallies with the notion of David Cameron's Big Society which is another way of saying that everything sinks or swims commercially. If you're bothered, throw it a life raft (charitable giving and philanthropy is nicely embedded in The Big Society Cabinet Office statement).

Satirist Alastair Beaton defined the coalition government's use of the word "empowerment" to devalue such things -  education, hospitals, as well as cultural activity - very succinctly on the Today programme this morning, "We in government are going to stop doing what we used to do and if you don't do it as a volunteer  we'll close it down."

Here is a selection from the many, many articles that have appeared on the topic of the UK Film Council this past week.

From The Guardian with mixed reactions from figures in the industry.

Demise of the Film Council from the Putney Debater (Michael Chanan).

Dave Calhoun's argument for supporting the BFI and the notion of film as art (rather than commerce) in Time Out 

The UKFC Closing from the Sheffield Doc Fest blog.

Save the UK Film Council petition currently at 20,000+ signatures.

And here's Starsuckers director Chris Atkins's bracingly cynical take on the Council

N.B. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Borderlines Film Festival.

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