Did The UK Benefit From A Film Council?
It takes a comedian, Stewart Lee, to point up one flaw in the Cameron idea of businesses replacing state partnerships (not avery original idea, either, Dave). As he puts it, ‘Businesses’ bankrolling comes with caveats. It’s easier to lure company money to fund a monkey sanctuary than to secure it for a study of intestinal lice, yet both are an important part of our understanding of our environment. Sexy causes snag the stash. And in the case of arts sponsorship, do big corporations want to be associated with awkward and uncompromising art?’
Luckily most art is now so toothless that I can’t imagine many businesses getting cold feet. But what about ‘people power’, Dave’s other idea, that puts decision-making back in public hands? It looks like a money-saving exercise and probably is, but may rid us of some quangos. As a dyed-in-the-wool film man I’m probably expected to support the UK Film Council, which employs 75 people to distribute money to film production and local media organisations (with which they’ve had great success), but their production list seems to be more about minority-interest festival awards than making popular cinema.
In fact, you would think the word ‘popular’ seems to upset British filmmakers. Last week I emailed the top ten UK Film Council hit list to the first ten names in my address book and asked them to mark which British films they’d seen. The result was pretty abysmal. Five had seen ‘In The Loop’, three had seen ‘The King Of Scotland’ on Sky, two had seen ‘Vera Drake’ – and that was it.
The Film Council’s most useful continuous role would be to create regional jobs. But too many students who took media studies drifted into the film industry wanting to be filmmakers, and nobody wants to get involved at the tough, dirty end – distribution and exhibition – where it’s still hard to fill places. And there remains the old image of the politically-left filmmaker doggedly churning out dated tracts for Berlin and Venice, supported by the nodding beard-strokers of ‘Sight & Sound’. Where are the homegrown talents that make films like ‘Inception’?
The answer to that is that they’re cherry-picked by Hollywood, who understand populism, just as they always have been, leaving local filmmakers to make the local films Hollywood doesn’t care about – and nobody sees.
Did the UK benefit from a film council? The answer seems to be yes, because it widely spread its largesse across a wide range of projects. One problem is that the UK Film Council is judged by fast results, not by the seeds it has sown for a strong future industry. However, the battle to compete with Hollywood was lost long ago, when the sell-off of cinema chains gave the US exclusive distribution and total vertical integration.
Time will tell if the abolition was a good move or not, but historically, tax breaks seem a more sure advance toward making film in the UK than quangos. There will be teeth-gnashing and petitions – now we’ll have to wait and see if big business wades in with a hand…