Development Hell

July 27, 2010 by Simon Kinnear in Opinion with 1 Comment

OK, so you know the score by now.

The Tory-&-chums Government, fucking eejits that they are, have brought the axe swinging down on the UK Film Council, ending a decade of sustained investment and infrastructure.

To some, the Council was a laughing stock and waste of money, an unregulated quango who freely tossed large chunks of cash at half-baked comedies like Sex Lives of the Potato Men, in a lame attempt at generating commercial hits. At least, that’s the right-wing press’ take on affairs.

In actual fact, the Council did so much more, supporting the entire cinema culture of the UK, through education in schools and funding for independent cinemas and film societies. The result: in the face of the merciless onslaught of home cinema, and the domination of major studios and multiplexes, there are still amazing venues nationwide to watch smaller, more difficult movies on the big screen. Plus, probably the best educated generation of Brits we’ve ever had who are able to watch, understand and appreciate this diversity.

As for the films themselves…when you look at the actual list of what the UK Film Council invested in, they’re got a pretty good track record. Come up with a Top 10 of the best British films of the past decade; whichever you slice it, there will probably be a handful of films in which the Council was involved. Cinema being the madly random thing it’s always been, it only takes one gem in a barrelfull of grit to make the entire process of prospecting hugely profitable…and my hunch is that the Council made more money for this country than it burned.

Yesterday, when I was asked to write a piece called “The 10 Best UK Film Council Projects,” I was blissfully unaware of the breaking news. The result being that I was able to skip the sadness and anger at the monumental folly of the Government’s decision, and concentrate on the positives.

It wasn’t hard to ferret out what I think is an impressively diverse selection of Brit-hits: a combination of directing legends and unknown tyros, a nice balance between art-house prestige pix and down’n’dirty genre flicks.

So here’s my 10 over at Total Film…although it could easily have been more. I didn’t have room for Vera Drake, The Proposition, Sunshine or St Trinian’s which were all successes of some kind and (with one exception) all excellent films you’d want to watch.

In the meantime, there’s a vague promise that Lottery money will still be available for investment in cinema, but at this stage we have no idea who the decision makers will be, how drastic the inevitable reduction in the size of the pot will be, how money will be allocated, and whether anybody has even bothered to think of the wider implication to UK cinema culture, not just in terms of the films being shown but the places where they can be shown.

EDIT: Wider souls than I have crunched the numbers and worked out the true economic value of the UK Film Council’s work. There’s now a petition to Save the UKFC, which I’ve just become the 5130th person to sign. I urge you to do the same.

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One Comment

  1. Film IntelJul 27, 2010 at 10:40 amReply

    I agree with everything you say there. My main problems with the decision on a political level are that a) no alternative method of delivering and allocating the funds seems to have been planned and b) the £3mil that scrapping the council will save has been described on numerous occasions by the coalition as 'a drop in the ocean' when asked about similar sizes of cuts to the budget deficit.

    On a film level, it's similarly difficult to comprehend. There are of course stories of people who have had negative experiences dealing with the UKFC floating around but that would be the same regardless of who gave the money out – with a finite 'pot' to spend, some people have to be told 'no'. My impression (primarlily from the films they have backed) is that they were a group of people who knew what they were doing and did a lot to diversify British cinema from its core 'grim up North, affluent down South' output.

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