By Ross Dickie
On July 26th the coalition government announced that the UK Film Council is to be abolished, with a view to reducing bureaucracy and ultimately saving the taxpayer money. However, in light of the recent success of The King’s Speech at the Toronto International Film Festival – a movie partly funded by the council – is this merely another example of shortsighted cuts and political expediency?
Having previously supported films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Gosford Park and Man on Wire, the council has spent the last ten years at the forefront of homegrown cinema. They have also been actively involved in aspects of film education at school level, along with the rolling out of digital cinemas across the country: the UK now has more digital cinema screens than any other country in Europe.
As of yet, it remains unclear how the quango will be replaced, with the BBC, Channel 4, the BFI and Film London all possible successors. The primary responsibility of whoever takes the reigns will be the distribution of government and lottery funding whilst keeping administrative overheads at a bare minimum. In the eyes of the government, it is failure in the latter which has lead to the demise of the Film Council.
The concept of more money for filmmakers and less money for bureaucrats may seem like a noble ideal, however, given the current economic climate, is this really the best time to meddle in an industry which is actually growing? According to the Film Council’s website, 2009 saw independent British films “take their largest market share in a decade”. They also claim to “generate £5 for every £1” they invest. If that doesn’t constitute a viable economic model then what does?
The move to abolish the council has met with widespread condemnation, particularly from within the industry. Director Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) recently described the decision as akin to “abolishing the NHS”. Melodramatic perhaps, but the message is clear. UK cinema is entering a new golden age – to change a formula which, for all its flaws, has proven to work, seems a very risky approach to deficit reduction.