Specialty, British indie pix to share $6.35 mil

LONDON

The British Film Institute has launched its revamped Distribution Fund with an annual budget of £4 million ($6.35 million) to support U.K. distribs and boost audience attendance for British independent and specialized films.

From Monday, the fund will offer coin through four strands: Big Audience, Breakout, New Models and the new Sleepers category.

“They enable us to be a lot clearer about the types of films we want to support and the type of awards we want to make,” Alex Stolz, BFI senior executive distribution and exhibition said. “It’s about identifying those films we think we can add value to and share the risk. We feel it is important to give audiences a choice, particularly outside of London.”

Formerly known as the P&A fund, the change in title also reflects a new approach.

“It’s recognizing that P&A as a term is not so relevant anymore, but also reflects that we are not just supporting theatrical releases,” said Stolz. “In most cases there will probably still be a theatrical element, but we can work on more experimental projects.”

The Big Audience awards will see four to six British films receive a substantial award of up to $476,200 each. “The Big Audience awards are bigger but there will be fewer of them,” said Stolz. “They are for independent British films with strong commercial potential. That is new. We didn’t have a wholly British strand before.”

Distribs will contribute at least half of total P&A spend with BFI coin helping to enhance the release to ensure it reaches at least 100 screens across the U.K. Stolz cites the upcoming “Spike Island,” released April 5 in Blighty by Revolver, as an example of a film backed by the BFI that fits this model.

Breakout awards, of approximately $159,000 to $238,000, are designed to expand audience reach for critically acclaimed independent British films and specialized films from around the world, including docus and foreign language titles. Recent examples of BFI-backed releases in this category include Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” and Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible.”

“New Models echoes the point that for independent films a conventional release pattern may not always be the best way of reaching an audience,” said Stolz. “We are interested in exploring new models of distribution. We are open to ideas. We don’t want to be prescriptive.”

These may include pop-up cinemas, simultaneous VOD platforms, special cinema events, or anything that shows potential according to Stolz. The BFI recently supported the docu “Ping Pong,” about eight competitors in the over 80s table-tennis championships in Inner Mongolia, which was distributed to U.K. care homes. The BFI is also supporting a multi-platform release in a compressed window for Chilean Academy Award nominated film “No.”

While distribs will need to apply for Big Audience and Breakout awards 14 weeks before planned first release and 16 weeks for New Models, the new Sleepers strand will offer flexible, reactive support to films in release that have achieved exceptional results. The awards will not be applied for but will be pro-active with the BFI Distribution Fund team monitoring critical response, opening weekend results, etc.

“We can go to a distributor and say we can lend support. Is there an opportunity to expand it? Can we help you take advantage of a strong opening, or reviews?” Stolz told Variety. “Sleepers is a complete radical departure designed to support a film once it has opened, which we haven’t done before. It’s not without challenges so we’re going to pilot it to see how it works.”

The Sleeper awards will focus on smaller films with more modest sums up to $63,500.

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