Purnell urges BBC to invest in homegrown arts

LONDON — The U.K.’s new minister for creative industries Thursday called on the U.K. Film Council to review film policy and challenged the BBC to spend more on home-grown features as part of his plan to promote a “creative Britannia.”

Delivering the keynote speech at the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) industry confab in London on Thursday, James Purnell said the Dept. for Culture, Media and Sport has “commissioned the Film Council to look at film policy to see if there is more that we can do to develop an integrated strategy for British film.”

Drawing attention to B.O. hits “Vera Drake,” “Gosford Park” and “Touching the Void,” Purnell applauded the UKFC’s track record, saying, “If it didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.”

But he drew attention to four areas in need of urgent attention: “How do we attract big-budget films to the U.K.? How do we support U.K. production? How do we improve distribution? And, should we do more for cultural film?”

Film Council chief exec John Woodward has been entrusted with the tune-up and said it looked forward to working with the department. After stints as Prime Minister Tony Blair’s special adviser and as a government whip, Purnell landed his first ministerial post a month ago and used the IPPR platform to stamp his mark on government policy for all the creative industries, which account for 8% of the economy.

While the UKFC has made progress in increasing access to specialized cinema with its $21.8 million digital screen network, the U.K. has found it more and more difficult to attract big productions to shoot in the country.

The next James Bond and Harry Potter pics are likely to defect from their U.K. production bases to Central Europe, due to continued uncertainty over government tax incentives and the strength of the pound against the dollar.

Purnell envisaged a beefed-up role for the BBC in fostering creativity, “whether by investing in British film or working with the independent production sectors in television, radio and online.” He pointed to the BBC’s nurturing of the U.K. garage music genre from underground to mainstream as an example of how the org can assist creative talent.

The minister also announced a feasibility study into the establishment of a music council along the lines of the UKFC.

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