Biz leaders rally, decry government's film funding cuts

Leading lights from Blighty’s film biz have got through the grieving stage and moved swiftly into anger. Acceptance may have to wait.

Biz leaders have been lining up to vent their fury and to press for a cast-iron guarantee that film funding will not be cut following Monday’s news that the government intends to shutter the U.K. Film Council.

The feeling of outrage within the industry is echoed by a campaign in cyberspace, where an online petition against the UKFC’s closure has attracted 13,000 names and a Facebook page for those hoping to save the agency listed 23,000 members.

“We’re all going to lobby,” said producer Paul Webster (“Atonement”), head of film for Kudos Pictures, on Wednesday. “We’re all reeling in shock, but we’re all going to do our darndest to help the situation.”

His latest project, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” received $2.3 million from the UKFC, and it wouldn’t have been made but for that support, he said. His previous pic, “Brighton Rock,” received $1.6 million from the UKFC.

“The relatively modest contribution created £15 million ($23.4 million) worth of business and then sales… that kind of seed money can attract an enormous amount of funding,” he said.

Producer Andy Harries (“The Queen”), chief exec of Left Bank Pictures, damns the decision as part of a “war on culture.”

“Wielding axes at industries that they don’t understand so randomly, so unexpectedly, without any consultation, seems criminal. They’re acting like vandals,” he said.

For Harries and other producers, the bottom line is that many British films will not be made if government funding is lost, citing his own “Rafta Rafta,” which he says was only greenlit because of UKFC support.

Although Jeremy Hunt, the government’s culture secretary, said Monday the National Lottery funding for films “will be maintained,” it only reps 24% — £15 million ($23.3 million) — of the UKFC’s $96 million annual budget. An additional $9.5 million went on the org’s overhead and $25 million to cultural org the British Film Institute. The rest of the funding went to programs that supported distribution, exhibition, training, education, research and the regional agencies.

Much of that is now likely to be at risk.

Stewart Till, CEO of the Icon U.K. Group and a former chairman of UKFC, said, “I don’t think anyone has a real sense of how much the funding will shrink, but I think the government wanted to make a symbolic statement, which is unfortunate because the Film Council was a role model of how the public sector could interface and intervene in the private sector.

“It’s a huge frustration that it was a decision seemingly made in 24 hours and not the subject of review. The tragedy is that the British film industry will suffer because of it, at a time when it is in ascendancy.”

Producer Finola Dwyer (“An Education”) is equally disheartened by the move. “The return (on investment) for the country is massive. It is very culturally and economically shortsighted of them to threaten to pull the rug out from underneath the industry,” she said.

However, many in the industry are willing to take a pragmatic view of this turn of events and salvage what they can.

Dwyer said, “It is critical that the investment in films is preserved and gets administered by people who know about filmmaking and the business.”

Having made its decision without any consultation with the industry, the government says it will consider the matter over the summer.

“All we can do is pile the pressure on and hope they’ll have a rethink,” Harries said.

The UKFC is due to wind down its operations gradually, before closing its doors in April 2012. Until then it is business as usual, said Dwyer, who still hopes that Hunt may reconsider his decision.

“We have to take the view that all is not lost. We are optimists if we are film producers, so I tend to take the optimistic view that good sense will prevail,” she said.

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