The Future’s Bright, The Future’s British

Lord Chris Smith has handed in his homework in the form of a review of UK film policy. Despite David Cameron getting everyone in a right bother last week, it turns out that the review itself is balanced and considered and at no point looks to focus on the profitability of the films which receive public funding. Instead there is a focus on investment in training, distribution and restoration alongside simple film production. David Cameron gave us all the wrong impression, something which hardly fights against his status of prick. PLEASE NOTE: Mild Concern most definitely has a political bias.

The report is lengthy and gives in total 56 different suggestions for ensuring the future success of the UK film industry. The short version is that the BFI have a lot of work to do to, I’d hate to have been in their offices as they read through 56 items they will need to start addressing ASAP. You can read the entire report in a rather jazzy PDF or just read my summary of the recommendations below. I’ll try not to drone on.

Make Films for Everyone
Looking back to last Wednesday’s rant it seemed as if Julian Fellowes was speaking out against art house films, but a look at the review shows that the idea is instead to fund a wide variety of films. The review suggests funding a broad and rich range of British films, ensure a plurality of taste in funding, and specifically funding to support the “unique challenges” of animation and independent family films that parents can enjoy with their children. We get to keep our Tyrannosaurs but must support other film genres too.

Get Films to Everyone
Funding is not just for production, but for distribution too. Far too often I recommend a great independent film forgetting that in London we are lucky to have access to all releases while other areas don’t get a glimpse of treasures like Submarine. Suggested methods of ensuring everyone gets access to independent British cinema include coordinating local cinemas and film societies across the country, “enhancing social cohesion”, using new digital technology and broadband to get films to all areas and having smaller exhibitors exchange best practises. There is even a suggestion of funding screening equipment in community halls for rural areas, no one will be left out.

Promote the British Film Brand in UK and Abroad
The BFI is to spend plenty of time and money building the “British Film Brand”, possibly through an annual “British Film Week”. Another suggestion is for a UK wide film festival offering from the BFI to promote independent films, spreading the success of the London Festival to other areas. The BFI is also recommended to set out an international strategy for UK film, develop international co-production and BBC Worldwide is to continue to invest in and promote British films on a global level.

The Children Are Our Future
Lots of suggestions for the BFI to invest in educating young people in all aspects of film; every school should offer film education including making, seeing and learning about British films. Prepare to watch Kes everyone. A strategy is needed to ensure that production skills being taught are the “Gold Standard” and the three Skillset Film Academies are in need of review. The BBC and their like are to continue to invest in talent development and be the leading gateway to the industry for new talent. There should be a career ladder for any film-maker beyond their first film and any company receiving lottery funding should have a scheme in place to invest in developing new talent. Education should stretch beyond film-making and cover new media and entrepreneurship in the film industry. Talent should also be nurtured outside of the London area.

Let’s Get Digital, Digital. I Wanna Get Digital. Let’s Get into Digital
The review stresses the importance of moving to digital for a variety of reasons, and while the plight of the projectionist is sad it does seem to make sense. Digital distribution of independent British films will make it cheaper to transport for exhibition and allow access to more film for smaller venues. The report also recommends the BFI working with online distributors to help promote and invest in UK films.

There Be Pirates
The review loses me slightly in its recommendation of pushing forward the Digital Economy Act (something I’ve ranted about before, twice). Piracy may well be bad but censoring the internet is not the answer; Wikipedia will go offline for a day tomorrow to protest a similar move in America. Other suggestions to combat piracy are pro-copyright education in schools, for the Government to tackle file sharing sites and to make it a criminal offence to record films shown in cinemas.

Not All About Return on Investment
Far from being the money hungry beast David Cameron led us to believe this report might be, it instead suggests that the BFI relax recuperation targets for its investments. The report also recommends that any money returned to the lottery fund due to a film’s success be available to that film’s writer, director and producers and the funds be directly made accessible to whichever company made the successful film so that they can go on and try to repeat that success.

Protect British Heritage
The final suggestions from the report look at protecting the heritage of British cinema, looking to ensure the long-term safety of and access to the UK’s significant collection of films. It’s all about preservation and presentation. This includes the BFI forming new partnerships to get funding from outside investors to help digitise and exhibit classic British films and the BBC to maintain funding for archiving UK television.

Outside Investment is Key
While mostly advising the BFI on how to spend our money, the report also stresses the importance of the BFI drumming up outside support. This includes a call for all the major UK broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB) to openly set out their financial commitments to British films, and suggest that the BFI incentivise private investment in UK film and encourage sponsorship and philanthropy for film culture.

It’s All About Balance
Recommendation number 17 pretty much sums up the report by stating that, “The Panel recommends that BFI funding for film should be broadly balanced between filmmaking and distribution activities (development, production, P&A) and activities related to film culture (audience development, film education and training, film export, lifelong learning, archive and heritage, activity in the Nations and Regions, economic cultural and policy research); and further recommends that within the two broad categories as much flexibility should be available to the BFI as possible to respond to the needs of audiences, the film industry, and film culture.”

It looks mostly good to me, any emphasis on improving distribution is key, and it looks like there isn’t too much emphasis on profits over art. Good on you Lord Chris Smith, and shame on you David Cameron for getting me worked up over nothing.