Parker calls for major policy changes

LONDON — Alan Parker, chairman of the Film Council, today laid out a blueprint for the “radical re-invention” of the British film industry, in a speech intended to start a debate about the direction of U.K. film policy over the next few years.

Speaking at the British Academy of Film & TV Arts to an audience of industry and government reps, Parker unveiled the Film Council’s long-term strategy to build a sustainable U.K. film business. This will involve a shift in the focus of public funding away from production and towards distribution, training and technical infrastructure.

The aim, Parker said, is to promote the U.K. as an international film center by using tax incentives to encourage the distribution of British films at home and abroad; investing lottery money to improve creative and technical skills and support cultural production; and supporting a world-class service sector to attract foreign producers.

“We can never be the biggest film industry in the world, but we should be right up there near the top of the league,” Parker said. “The U.K. film industry is not in need of quick-fixes and band-aids if we are to succeed on the world stage. It needs nothing less than radical re-invention.”

Parker’s speech was made against the backdrop of a collapse in the volume of U.K. film-making this year, with just 40 films being shot in 2002, down from a high of 84 pics in 1997.

“We’ve had seven years of lottery subsidy, and five years of a production-focussed tax break. Neither has delivered the structural changes that we need in order to deliver the consistent performance and growth to prevent a crisis every five years,” he argued.

“The evidence from too many years is clear that our producers are never going to build the companies which will form the basis of a successful film industry,” he said.

Specifically, he recommended that the U.K.’s film tax break should be redesigned to give distributors – both British indies and the U.S. majors – an incentive to back British movies.

He proposed that lottery money, new government funding and coin from the industry itself should be channelled into a comprehensive national training strategy.

He argued for revising the legal definition of a British film to include films shot in other countries with predominantly U.K. talent, and proposed strategic alliances with countries outside Europe to encourage them to import U.K. technicians.

He spoke in favor of strengthening links with the U.S. film industry at all levels to attract more American investment into the U.K.; and at the same time he called for financial measures to encourage Europe’s major film companies to do business in Britain.

He also called on the government to use the new communications legislation currently going through parliament as an opportunity to force U.K. broadcasters to increase their investment in film production.

“We need to abandon forever the ‘little England’ vision of a U.K. industry comprised of small British companies delivering parochial British films,” Parker said. “That, I suspect, is what many people think of when they talk of a ‘sustainable’ British film industry. Well, it’s time for a reality check. That ‘British’ film industry never existed, and in the brutal age of global capitalism, it never will.”

Instead, Parker called for “the growth of an industry that embraces the international market.” “We have to stop worrying about the nationality of money. We want to encourage investment into our film industry from anywhere in the world.”

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