British film transition

BFI takes over funding, sets governors

After nine months of upheaval in Blighty’s film biz, today the gears are finally shifting as the British Film Institute takes over most of the duties formerly handled by the shuttered U.K. Film Council.

In wake of the change, BFI has announced five new trustees to its governing board: Josh Berger, prexy-managing director of Warner Bros. Entertainment U.K., Ireland and Spain; Matthew Justice, producer and managing director of Big Talk; former MP and cabinet minister James Purnell; “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” helmer Beeban Kidron; and Olswang head of film and TV practice Lisbeth Savill. A sixth governor will be announced next week.

They replace three retiring governors — Working Title’s Eric Fellner, Recorded Picture Co. managing director Peter Watson and talent agency PFD’s CEO Caroline Michel — plus two vacant posts.

BFI director Amanda Nevill told Variety: “I’m hoping the industry is blissfully unaware of changes going on in the first instance. Our absolute intention is that funding services and advice continue as is as we transfer across.”

She noted the BFI’s intention to increase production funding from £15 million ($24.1 million) to $29 million beginning next year.

“If you take any two organizations and put them into one, there’s going to be a lot of synergies and savings,” Nevill said.

Nevill added that a decade ago, when the UKFC was set up, it was needed.

“It brought film right up on the agenda and ensured that Britain could ensure this on a world stage,” she said. “In that same decade, the BFI has transformed itself. Audiences are massively higher, the BFI London Film Festival has a completely different set up, BFI London Imax continues to be one of the top three biggest grossing cinemas in the world and we have a huge experience of connecting audiences with film.”

The BFI’s past mandate included nurturing film culture rather than doling out cash. But now it will take on responsibilities as a public body administering $43 million annually for film from the national lottery fund, tax credit certification as well as promotion and info org the Media Desk.

However, the BFI faces challenges. The government is slashing its funding by 15% over the next four years, and it has pinkslipped 35 staffers.

In July, the government announced that it would shutter the UKFC but didn’t unveil a plan to replace it until November, when culture minister Ed Vaizey revealed the BFI would take over most of the duties.

The government also announced that lottery funding for film would be upped to $65 million by 2014 as expenses incurred by the 2012 London Olympics fund are wrapped up.

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