BFI, Film London to take on extra duties

After four months of speculation, the rumors have ended, but not all questions have been answered as Blighty’s government unveiled its film policy on Monday, placing the British Film Institute in charge of most duties formerly handled by the U.K. Film Council.

Speaking to industryites in London, culture minister Ed Vaizey confirmed that the BFI will administer some £27 million ($43 million) allocated annually for film from the national lottery fund, tax credit certification as well as promotion and info org the Media Desk.

The news allays concerns that have been growing after the government announced in July that it will shutter U.K. Film Council in 2012 — but did not have a plan to replace it.

Vaizey said that “the BFI will change fundamentally” and remarked the change was “the start of a new page rather than a simple development in the institute’s history.

“It will be more open to partnerships with others, more engaged with the nations and the regions, more able to realize an exciting vision of a coherent, joined up film industry. These plans will involve a renewed BFI board and senior management structure, reflecting the BFI’s new responsibilities,” he added.

The BFI’s new structure will be unveiled early next year, and the minister said that board vacancies would be “filled quickly, following an open process run by the BFI.”

“It is a bold move to create a single champion for film in the U.K. and we welcome it,” said BFI chairman Greg Dyke. “We want to achieve greater coherence across the whole film sector and to strike a balance between cultural and commercial. We see an opportunity to reduce overheads, which will allow us to put more of the lottery funds into frontline activities and provide greater public value,” adding that “it is our aim to increase the production budget for film from £15 million ($23.3 million) to £18 million ($28 million) in the coming year. This is possible because of the cut in overhead costs.”

Dyke said the BFI had deliberately held back from appointing board members, but now would begin recruiting.

Vaizey also said lottery funding for film would be upped to $67 million by 2014.

“There will be no gap in lottery distribution as we transfer the U.K. Film Council’s responsibilities to the BFI,” he said.

The BFI is a charitable organization that operates under a royal charter, but he said that was not likely to have any ramifications for lottery distribution. Whether the charter will need to be adapted remains to be seen.

Vaizey also said the eight regional screen agencies, which promote filmmaking in their areas, will be unified into a national body, Creative England, chaired by John Newbigin, and will have hubs in the North, Midlands and the South.

He stressed the government’s intention to maintain the U.K. film tax credit, which he said was “vital to maintain industry confidence.”

Film London will manage inward investment strategy via foreign shoots and co-productions through a public-private partnership with key industry bodies including Pinewood Studios Group, the U.K. Screen Assn. and the Production Guild.

It will also promote British films overseas and will forge strong links with Creative England, but will not be wrapped into the new body.

“BFI has been given strategic responsibility and we’ve been given national responsibility,” Film London CEO Adrian Wootton told Daily Variety. “It’s a road map and there are lots of legal issues and due diligences but I’m pleased with the responsibility we’ve been given.

“It complements what we already do,” he said. “We work closely with the British Film Commission’s office. The difference is, we’ll be having an advisory committee with established industry players.”

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