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BBC Films finds brand new home

Pics, once scattered around pubcaster's webs, will air on BBC2

BBC Films, the pubcaster’s film production arm, has a new home.

Until now it has been a bit of a nomad, with its output — around eight pics a year — scattered across the net’s four channels, but beginning July 17 all of its movies will screen on high-brow web BBC2 as part of BBC Films’ rebranding.

“This month is a new start for BBC Films’ relationship with our television audiences,” says Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, who oversees the net’s TV and film output. “It is a very exciting time because we are now linking up an amazing slate, the new team leading BBC Films and the BBC2 connection.”

For Bennett, there are several benefits to the move. It will raise the profile of the film arm in the eyes of Blighty’s TV license-fee payers and help establish BBC Films as a consumer brand to match its reputation within the industry, which has been enhanced by a series of nominations, prizes and appearances at festivals. This may then pay dividends in the U.K. theatrical and homevid markets.

The move will also boost the amount of fiction on BBC2, which is one of the channel’s strategic goal.

“By having film dotted around our channels there wasn’t really the consumer awareness of the fantastic work going on at BBC Films,” Bennett says. “And so I thought, why don’t we kill two birds with one stone? We can give BBC2 a weightier mass of great drama and film, and also create more of a brand for BBC Films by having BBC2 as its home.”

BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow adds, “There was a natural meeting of minds between what BBC Films is aspiring to achieve and what BBC2’s bigger purpose is. It is a great thing for BBC2 to be able to amplify the amount of fiction we have on the channel. An awful lot of what we do is factual and I was very keen to find ways of getting interesting new contemporary fiction into the channel beyond what we commission from our colleagues in domestic drama. It’s a win-win situation.”

Hadlow also sees it as a “win” for BBC2 viewers, whom she describes as “a very discerning, highly intelligent, thoughtful audience, who are hungry for as much interesting and unexpected fiction as they can get, and they are wide ranging in their interests.”

“Big one-off films are a very recognizable pleasure,” Hadlow says. “So our task is to make sure that in the schedule the films feel like the big treat of that night and that they will feel like an event in the week.”

The BBC Films’ launch weekend will see the U.K. TV preems of helmer Tom Hooper’s Michael Sheen starrer “The Damned United,” about iconic soccer manager Brian Clough; David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises,” starring Viggo Mortensen in a violent tale about Russian gangsters in London’s East End; and John Crowley’s “Is Anybody There?” starring Michael Caine as an elderly magician in an old folks’ home who helps a young boy come out of his shell.

After that, Hadlow plans to air BBC Films’ pics alongside docus grouped around themes.

November, for example, will see a season of films and docus on education and will include “Notes on a Scandal,” helmed by Richard Eyre and starring Cate Blanchett as a teacher who has an affair with a pupil, and director Nicholas Hytner’s “The History Boys,” based on a play and script by Alan Bennett.

There’s a literary season planned for early next year, when a docu series from the novelist Sebastian Faulks, “Faulks on Fiction,” will be scheduled alongside other literary-themed output, such as the movie adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Brideshead Revisited.”

Christine Langan, who became BBC Films’ creative director just over a year ago, welcomes the move to BBC2 as a “great innovation.””It’s a more muscular connection between the films and their TV home, rather than us operating in a silo fashion, where we are working in the film world and then the films accidentally turn up on our TV screens. … It’s not like that; it’s all joined up.”

Occasionally, BBC Films will take the pay TV rights to a film to give BBC2 a U.K. TV exclusive, but this will be the exception rather than the rule, Langan says. “There is no point in overpaying to grab hold of the pay TV transmission if that’s not seen as a scheduling benefit. It really is a discussion with every title.”

For Bennett, the BBC2 linkup is part of a plan to extend the life of the films and allow them to pack a greater punch across all platforms. The BBC is hoping to hasten the convergence through Project Canvas, a venture that will bring together broadcasters, telcos and distributors to create an Internet-connected TV platform. BBC Films could benefit from this development, alongside other indie shingles.

“There is some real opportunity there. Over time we could evolve something sophisticated like a film club or film network with other partners involved in Canvas,” Bennett says. “Plans are not crystallized yet, but there is a lot of excitement and interest in that, because films can have really good longevity through being made available in new ways.

“So this has got to be good for BBC Films and the British film industry.”

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