The plans to overhaul public funding of British cinema, which David Cameron will announce later today during a visit to Pinewood studios, has so far drawn divided reactions.
According to early reports, Cameron will call for lottery funding to be aimed at big-budget, commercially successful films, and away from small-scale, independent cinema. Citing the box-office and awards success of The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, he said: “Our role should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival … the best international productions.”
Iain Smith, the chair of the British Film Commission, an organisation also cited favourably by Cameron for its work in attracting overseas productions to shoot in the UK, said in response: “It is reassuring to hear the government understands the role big-budget, international movies shooting in the UK plays in building a world-class skilled workforce, while boosting the UK economy.”
A report on the Today show suggested that the likes of Mike Leigh – a critically successful but far from commercial film-maker – are “finished”, but given that Leigh is currently marked with establishment favour by an Olympics commission, that may be a hasty conclusion.
Leigh’s contemporary Ken Loach – another critic’s favourite but no box-office heavyweight – has suggested that the government’s plans include the return of profits to the producers, instead of the funding bodies as is currently the case. If this proves true, it will mark a sharp change from the modus operandi of the UK Film Council, which provided funding from lottery sources as a “loan”, and expected repayment from a film’s income.
With the much-criticised abolition of the UKFC being their first major act in the film-making sector, the coalition have been under pressure to develop a more coherent, constructive policy toward the sector. The costs associated with transferring the UKFC’s functions to the BFI appear to have wiped out any of the financial savings the UKFC’s abolition was supposed to achieve. Now it seems that the coalition will be considerably more relaxed about returns to the public purse of money handed out to UK film producers.
What this means for the future of UK film production has yet to be established. A runaway hashtag on Twitter, #fundablefilms, is drawing spoof suggestions for future film titles. It is notoriously difficult to predict commercial success in cinema, and during the lottery era the UK funding agencies have proved vulnerable to the financial machinations of wily film producers – the main reason why the UKFC’s safeguards were introduced. The spectacle of profits being creamed off by Hollywood studios, after start-up funding from the UK lottery, is a very real possibility.
Furthermore, commercial film-making carries enormous financial risk; will the British public be happy to see millions go down the drain on inevitable failures? Whenever public funding bodies try to act like studios, they end up getting burned, as the furore around Sex Lives of the Potato Men demonstrated.
Moreover, what would happen to small-scale, high-impact films such as Shame, Wuthering Heights, The Deep Blue Sea and We Need to Talk About Kevin; all low-budget, “difficult” films that required a “cultural” imperative to get off the ground? Let alone the likes of Lindsay Anderson’s If…, which Cameron professed to admire only days ago.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011