Agencies under scrutiny as money dries up

LONDON — Like many European countries, the British government is coming down hard on subsidies to the arts.

Public funding to arts orgs has been slashed as Arts Council England, the funding body that disburses the U.K. government’s arts coin on behalf of the Dept. of Culture, Media and Sport, has been forced to implement a 29.9% cut over four years resulting in a 15% funding cut to the National Theater, the Royal Shakespeare Co. and Royal Opera House.

The U.K. Film Council, which was very publicly abolished by Blighty’s new coalition government in July in a bid to be seen as cutting costs across the board had the Brit pic biz up in arms for months before a new plan of action — streamlining former UKFC duties through the British Film Institute — was announced.

While Blighty is not typically a subsidy-driven industry like many territories across Europe, the Brit pic biz is heavily reliant on receiving funding from at least one of the following public coin pots: Film4, BBC Films and the British Film Institute, which has taken over lottery coin administration from the now-shuttered U.K. Film Council.

At present, the broadcasters’ funding is steady — BBC Films has an annual budget of $19.6 million to plow into pics, and Film4 upped its budget by $4.9 million to $24.6 million last year.

Government has pledged to increase the size of the film production fund from £15 million ($24.4 million) to £18 million ($29.3 million) for 2011-12 and expects lottery funding for film to rise from $43.9 million to more than $65 million by 2014. This, government officials say, is partly coming from the end of lottery money being funneled into the 2012 London Olympics fund.

But what the UKFC offered went beyond production finance, and there is an array of activities that will be cut off as of April, with others under review.

Departments under the old film council banner such as Film Export, which promoted Brit pics internationally, and Film Education are under review, while the Research and Statistics Unit is not specifically being funded.

This has filmmakers and artists across Blighty worried about what the holes in training, support, mentoring and talent development could mean to the biz as a whole.

“Clearly cuts in arts are going to affects some of the things that we’re used to having, whether that is in the way film festivals are supported, new entrant schemes or diversity of filmmakers,” says producer Paul Trijbits of Ruby Films. “Undoubtedly it will have an impact based on what is a relatively small but important contribution to direct public funding.”

Adds producer Paul Webster, whose credits include “Atonement” and “Eastern Promises”: “I think it’s too early to tell what’s happening with the current round of cuts. But on the production side, we may get away with it.

“But now we’re seeing that serious film seems to be able to turn a pretty penny,” he adds, referring to global hit “The King’s Speech.” “There’s more equity available and more high-net-worth individuals. But funding is underpinned less by what governments are doing and more by what banks are doing. (And right now,) they’re not lending money.”

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