Axing of the UK Film Council: Has the Casualty of The Arts Begun?

The relationship between art and politics has always been precarious. Often, the discussion of culture in the House of Commons crops up in formulaic declarations of appreciation, or is crow-barred in, in the form of cringe-inducing anecdotes. Figures in the arts have always been wary of the country’s culture being at the mercy of those who, for all their apparent good intentions and economic acumen, don’t fully understand the nature of the business. All knew that widespread cuts were imminent, but when Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt announced that the UK Film Council was to be abolished, the reaction was, quite rightly, one of dismay. British cinema’s recent casualty, the scrapping of £45m funding for a BFI film centre on the South Bank was regrettable but – however reluctantly accepted – sensible… at least for the time being. On the other hand, the more the decision to axe the UKFC is interrogated, the more misguided, damaging and frankly, pointless it appears to be.

The council is invaluable not only to the British film industry, but to the British people. Most recognisably it assists those at the top, funding film production itself, having backed numerous titles to be proud of from The Constant Gardener to In The Loop. Since its creation under Labour in 2000, it has not only invested millions of lottery funding into more than 900 films but also caused a UK box office revenue increase of an astonishing 62%. Today, it is key in supporting our cinema internationally, and enabling the UK to move forward into the digital age of cinema, funding its first 3D film and equipping many cinemas with digital projection technology, allowing smaller films to gain a wider release. But the UKFC has not forgotten the little people. It has supported hundreds of film societies and independent regional venues: Nottingham’s own indispensible Broadway cinema is one such benefactor, allowing the public to have an exceptional moviegoing experience outside of the multiplex. And crucially, the council also helps nurture the future of cinema, giving over 20,000 young people the opportunity to get involved in filmmaking.

A list of achievements is all very well, but their nature reveals how Hunt’s decision transpires to be particularly damaging. It is essentially nothing but a short term solution, little more than a move to make up numbers. The UKFC will apparently be entirely closed down by 2012, but so far Hunt has been entirely vague on how future funding will be distributed, only mentioning it will continue through ‘other bodies.’ But the plural is enough. Other bodies? Why needlessly take apart a cohesive organisation, a one-stop shop that keeps the fragmented film industry working smoothly and replace it with ‘other bodies’?

It is obvious how vital the UKFC is culturally: it is directly responsible for shaping the canon of contemporary British cinema. As well as continuing to back stalwarts like Mike Leigh, it also invested in the potential of rising stars like Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold. But this has not occurred overnight. The council’s axing will undo a decade of hard work. Just looking at its website, one cannot help but swell with pride and excitement at the sheer amount of opportunity it offers. Reputation is a delicate thing to build, but the UKFC is now a respected part of the British film industry. Its proposed abolition is undermining the integrity of one of the country’s best cultural resources.

But it is not film alone that suffers. Always, especially in an economic context, art can be seen as superfluous, and sadly, in the eyes of some, a waste. When money needs to be saved, the arts are an easy target because we don’t officially need them. They’re not actually fundamental. We aren’t going to perish without them. In that case, I would like to know how on earth those previously employed in the arts (and elsewhere) will be expected to fill their time (or raise their spirits) when the quality arc of British culture starts to plummet as a result of highly damaging cuts.

Whilst all organisations funded by the DMCS will lose 3% of their budget by next year, Arts Council England will lose 4% – the cuts don’t seem like a lot, until you realise that they signify a loss of £5m. The axing of the UKFC itself will not save the government the annual £25m it invests in it, as the significant revenue the council creates will be markedly affected. Each year the country’s film industry contributes over £4.5 billion of its £6.8 billion turnover to UK GDP, returning more than £1.2 billion to the Exchequer and supporting – directly and indirectly – 100,000 jobs. The UK Film Council plays an integral part in this, and in the long run, its loss may be far more harmful than many are expecting.

Isabelle Parkin

CommentFilm & TV
7 Comments on this post.
  • Jonathan Stuart-Brown
    4 August 2010 at 19:41
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    True UK film makers, artists, lovers of film and art, and supporters of UK film should congratulate David Cameron and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. If people foolishly sign the petition to save the fat cat UK Film Council then Your heart is in the right place, but the very best bet of you and others getting a career in The UK film industry has been dealt a fantastic ace by The Culture Secretary in getting rid of the fat cat bureaucrats who were stopping people like you getting on the ladder.

    I take it you know that it was not their money but your money (taxes, lottery tickets) which they gave out. But first 75 people took between £70 000 and £150 000 each every year. They paid £24 000 a week, £300 000 a year, £3 million in ten years on the most palatial office you can ever imagine. They had five star hotels on your taxes, first class travel, and one had £16 000 lunch expenses.

    Your money could and should have been spent much better on making movies, creating film jobs and opportunities. But that was not their goal. They had a super elite in club on your taxes and to put it bluntly, you were not welcome as a member !

    You should after further research just rejoice they are gone AND thank The Secretary of State for Culture. There is now a real chance with the remaining Lottery Money that it will be used to help the likes of you get your chance at a career in film making.

    Having lobbied hard to get rid of The UK Film Council, those of us at Save The British Film Industry have obviously been celebrating all week and congratulating the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

    For there to be a British Film Industry, there needs to be sound stages built around The UK. Ideally at least 4 in every county. Hollywood $50 million to $300 million productions can only go where sound stages are. For those who do not know, they are glorified warehouses, more normally found in The Midlands and The North YET curiously sound stages are confined to a very very small 200 acres in the area of west London, and just North and West of London. The Uk Film Industry fought tooth and nail to ensure not one penny of Lottery money was spent on building sound stages outside of this small 200 acre zone..thus guaranteeing a UK film industry could not arise. They did spend £300 000 a year on their ground rent. They did employ 75 people on £70 000 to £150 000 who often had several other jobs. But sound stages, post-production facilities, nope. If these existed across The UK, then many more entrepreneurs who invest in fast food franchaises, laundrettes, restaurants, shops, etc will take the risk and hire them to try their luck at film making for profit. It was the volume of risk taking entrepreneurs which created Hollywood, and they then built sound stages, before selling them for houses, and forever thereafter seeking to rent them elsewhere such as Pinewood, Shepperton, Elstree.

    Now the MD of Elstree earns a fraction of the salary of the average UKFC employee, yet he has delivered two years of block booking of Elstree sound stages by Hollywood Studios creating lots of UK based film jobs. Why is only little Hertsmere Council, owner of Elstree, wise about sound stages ? Why did The UKFC not educate people outside West London that they are the essential infrastructure of a real industry ? Now UKFC is gone, and hopefully certain very very high paid, huge expenses Regional screen Commissions with them, the sound stages can get built and UK film making enter a true golden age.

    We urge people not to sign any Petition to save UKFC fatcat jobs. It has nothing to do with The UK Film Industry, indeed it was the enemy of most people making films in Britain.

    You would do much better to get a Petition to Save Pinewood and Shepperton Studios. These have 34 sound stages. Each employing people in The Uk film industry, well only 80% of them.

    The plc owning it has sold the right to use Pinewood brandname in the last 12 months to competitor studios in Canada, Malaysia, Germany and The Dominican Republic. The origial UK studios will not compete against them for the Hollywood productions which rent in Iver Heath and Shepperton and employ all the film workers. The two biggest shareholders in Pinewood who this week got 51% of shares for the first time have both openly said they are interested in the property values of Pinewood and Shepperton, not especially the film making business on it. The biggest shareholder made his billions buying businesses to close them and sell the land they were on at a profit. Guess what The UKFC were mute during the transfer of the real film jobs outside The UK which is about to become accelerated. It was not even protecting The London Film Industry longterm.

    You are going to be left with Elstree (only about 15% of Pinewood-Shepperton capacity) unless you start campaigning, petitioning to the Government now rather than the misguided attempt to save fatcat bureaucrats while killing the industry and driving abroad its major investor.
    ‘Chariots of Fire’ was made quite happily without The UK Film Council. Ditto prior to the utterly wasteful on themselves bureaucrats getting your taxes to play with, yes PRIOR to The UKFC we had ‘A Fish Called Wanda’, ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’, ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Shallow Grave’, ‘My Left Foot’, ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Crying Game; ‘Mona Lisa’ , ‘Notting Hill’ ‘The Winslow Boy’, ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘Shakespeare In Love’, ‘Sliding Doors’. ‘Little Voice’, ‘Mrs Brown’, ‘Hamlet’.’Brassed Off’, ‘Jude’, ‘Wind in The Willows’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Madness of King George’, etc etc let alone The 007 James Bond films, and not forgetting the 15% of Hollywood movies made at Pinewood and Shepperton and Elstree Studios each year…….

    There is hope but not if people fall for The UKFC con tricks. We were better off before them, and will be better off after them. You might even get a job. Very best of success.

    Jonathan Stuart-Brown

  • Jonathan Stuart-Brown
    4 August 2010 at 19:48
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    As one UK screenwriter of renown writes..
    Thank you for your email. I and others welcomed the abolition of the UKFC not so much because it was a way for the government to save money but because the UKFC actively suppressed British Cinema.

    You must be aware that, apart from a portion of UKFC funds going into ‘educational projects’ (i.e.wasted), and a small cosmetic portion going to a few rare and already-financed British films, most of the funding went to Hollywood film companies to induce them to shoot their films at British production houses.

    The British film community felt coruscating spasms of pain every time a government official bragged about the ‘success’ of the so-called British film industry when what was being referred to were successful American films that had been partly made at British production houses. We all remember seeing Tony Blair, for example, in the House of Commons, claiming that the success of the Harry Potter films (Warner Bros) were due to “his” policies and represented a success for British films when, in reality, they demonstrated the humiliating failure of British films.

    In a newspaper interview the patriotic J.K. Rowling announced she would not ‘go Hollywood’ but would sell the rights to her Harry Potter series to a British film company. She didn’t know there were no British film companies capable of financing and releasing the Harry Potter films. Later, she had to sell her rights to Hollywood or not see the films made. She had no choice.

    Another recent ignominy was the drubbing received by Channel 4 when it made the excellent low budget film “Slumdog Millionaire” only to be forced to give it away to foreign studios in order to see it released. All the profits went to these foreign studios, not Britain.

    And this is an old story. The film “1984” (which I co-wrote) starring John Hurt and Richard Burton has been seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. This was a British film financed by Richard Branson (Virgin Films) that was released in only one cinema in the UK. Why only one? Because Britain’s cinemas are controlled by Hollywood and the Hollywood cartel was threatened by Richard’s intention to start a British studio, so made sure to strangle it at birth.

    In most years, about 99% of the films shown in UK cinemas are foreign films. (About 95% are American; 3% from other countries and 2% indigenous.) There is no nation in Europe whose film culture has been so thoroughly wiped out as ours has been.

    Back in 1970, Britain still had its own cinema. We had three major studios: Associated British Pictures, British Lion, and The Rank Organisation. Between them, they produced and released between 30 and 40 films a year. In those days, we had home-grown stars like Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, Dirk Bogarde, Alec Guinness, Vanessa Redgrave and Norman Wisdom – and a plethora of character actors. For example, John LeMesurier (best known for Dad’s Army) appeared in over 100 British films.

    Today, to become a star, a British actor must go to Hollywood. To write movies, a British writer must go to Hollywood. To direct movies, a British director must go to Hollywood. Okay, there are a tiny few exceptions – such as directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. But their films were made by British TV companies until they stopped funding films in the early 90’s since when their films have been made by French and Spanish studios.

    By helping to fund American films, the UKFC suppressed any chance of a revival of British Cinema, which is why it’s good news it has been abolished.

    We have tremendous talent for filmmaking in this country. But most of that talent has left (or wants to leave) this country because there is no real film industry here. Sometimes people are confused because American-financed production companies (such as Working Title) have offices in London and purport to make ‘British films’. In truth, Working Title, and other such production companies, are part of the Hollywood industry. Their business is done in LA and their films are owned and controlled by Hollywood studios.

    Why did British Cinema disappear 40 years ago? Simple. Protections were removed. Without protection British Cinema could not compete with Hollywood so it disappeared.

    Britain is the only country in Europe that does not protect its film industry.

    In the past, when Norman St John Stevas – Arts Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government – lobbied to bring back protections, he was told ‘no’ on Free Market grounds.
    This was puzzling because the American film market has never been free. It has always been closed to foreigners. No French, German, Spanish or Scandinavian film company is allowed to release a film in America. No British film company is allowed to release a film in America. And yet we allow America 100% access to our domestic market. Hardly fair, is it?

    When we finished “1984”, we could not release it in America but were allowed to sell it (at a loss) to a Hollywood studio. Richard Branson lost £3 million but the film went on to make a fortune for MGM.

    The solution:

    Write and pass a bill reserving, say,15% of the UK film market for UK films. This is what’s done in other countries.

    How it works is the government decrees that (say) 15% of all the films shown to the public in cinemas are indigenous. Cinema owners – to retain their licenses – must show that, each year, 15% of their screen time has been devoted to British films. This is not a lot to ask. Hollywood will still control 80% of the UK market.

    The French government reserves 12.5% of France’s film market for French films. Although done for cultural reasons, it has created a very lucrative industry that releases over 100 movies a year – in spite of the fact that roughly 80% of the screen time of French cinemas is devoted to Hollywood movies.

    When, in 2003, the Spanish government reserved 20% of its domestic market for Spanish films, there was (unsurprisingly) a boom in Spanish filmmaking and now there are three robust Spanish movie studios not only releasing Spanish films in Spain but also selling them world-wide and earning foreign currency.

    I urge Jeremy Hunt to take up the standard and champion British films. The restitution of protections will revive British Cinema, give us back our own indigenous cinema and improve our balance of payments. Not only would this be of ineffable value culturally but would, I think, be a vote-winner.

    There is no rationale for not protecting British films. After all, terrestrial British television is protected. The percentage of foreign material permitted on the BBC and ITV channels is limited
    to 40%

    Please promote this policy to Jeremy Hunt. And I’m sure David Cameron would see the sense in it.

    Once again, many thanks for delivering us from the treasonous UKFC. (Hm…UKFC – looks like an anagram, doesn’t it?)
    Best wishes,
    Jonathan Gems

    People defending The UK Film Council are misguided and have been conned. They were not interested in the UK, outside of 200 acres they could utterly control. They were bullies. They were the barrier to a UK film industry not the bridge. well done Jeremy Hunt. Well done David Cameron.
    Jonathan Stuart-Brown

  • Jonathan Stuart-Brown
    9 August 2010 at 13:43
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    Please Mr Hunt axe The Uk Film Council now, not in 2 years time. they are spending £140 million of taxpayers money to defend their 9 live fatcat quango while cheering as real UK film jobs go to Malaysia and china, Canada and Germany. Axe them now before they spend all our money on adverts, PR events, black propaganda on saving their 6 figure jobs and fiefdom. This £140 million could build 50 sound stages around The UK magnetising Hollywood finance. It could build 10 in Nottingham.
    and this man Vic Armstrong has done more to build the reputation of The UK film industry than all of UKFC

  • Jonathan Stuart-Brown
    12 August 2010 at 23:48
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  • Matthew
    30 September 2010 at 04:03
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    The failure of the British Film industry has nothing to do with the UKFC or Hollywood. It’s that You sit around and write rather than direct. Bring it, and we will follow.

  • Matthew
    30 September 2010 at 04:09
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    I’m sorry, but I just saw your sentence. “Well done David Cameron.” lol

  • dee
    27 January 2011 at 01:50
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    Quote from Jonathan Stuart Brown;

    ‘Your money could and should have been spent much better on making movies, creating film jobs and opportunities. But that was not their goal. They had a super elite in club on your taxes and to put it bluntly, you were not welcome as a member !

    You should after further research just rejoice they are gone AND thank The Secretary of State for Culture. There is now a real chance with the remaining Lottery Money that it will be used to help the likes of you get your chance at a career in film making.

    Having lobbied hard to get rid of The UK Film Council, those of us at Save The British Film Industry have obviously been celebrating all week and congratulating the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.’


    I wonder if savethebritishfilm industry are cecongratulating Jeremy Hunt now that he has refused to adopt their policy of creating sound stages around the country, or that they are celebrating the Conservative decision to back the very same -and failed- regional film councils – still in place but under a different name ?

    savethebritishfilm industry with its endless cheesy harping on about 007 seems to have a throwback to the Cubby Brocoli days of the 1970s – other than supporting Hollywood movies to be made here and the girls-with-guns idea of film-making theres absolutely no vision of what British cinema means in relation to its own cinematic expression or specifically British films by Brit film-makers.
    I was no supporter of the UKFC – but the choice between it and an old guard elite wanting to get their pals
    in to run the show or gear the UK up to be a service sector for Hollywood movies is the choice between a rock and a hard place. savethebritishfilmindustry does point to movies – big budget US movies ! – and ones that the pals are involved in – (again usually Hollywood blockbusters) – but theres little connection to British film-makers making British films in Britain.
    Is its expression one of hubris? Of being kept out of the club?
    Where are its British film-makers ?

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