With Michael Winterbottom’s eagerly awaited “Butterfly Kiss” in competition and Peter Chelsom’s comedy “Funny Bones” (a Sundance preem) leading the trio in Panorama, Brit filmmaking is solidly repped at this year’s Berlinale.

Following a year that saw Mike Newell’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” steamroll around the world, and Danny Boyle’s black comedy-thriller “Shallow Grave” draw unprecedented raves from local scribes, there’s guarded optimism here that British filming could finally be on a sustained roll, despite several recent flops by low-budget newcomers.

Indie filmmakers still are hampered by traditional skepticism toward movies by city sources and government foot-dragging in providing tax breaks. However, pubcaster BBC (riding high on Antonia Bird’s fest hit “Priest”) recently announced a $1.5 million fund for new filmers and single-drama chief George Faber is committed to getting more theatrical bang from his $75 million war-chest for the 1996-97 season.

“We invested in 20 films last year,” says Kim Ballard, finance director of funding org British Screen. “Twice as many as a couple of years ago. In 1994,78 British films were produced – the average is around 50. There’s a lot of excitement about, a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”

Winterbottom, whose previous work includes the telepic “Under the Sun” and BBC miniseries “Family,” makes his bigscreen bow with “Butterfly Kiss,” a femme road movie starring Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves. Already compared with “Thelma and Louise,” the pic “is harder-edged,” says Ballard, “with a hint of lesbianism.”

Surfing, U.K. style

Down in Cornwall in southwest England, Blighty’s first-ever surfing movie “Blue Juice,” starring Sean Pertwee and Catherine Zeta-Jones, has been shooting under director Carl Prechezer for Skreba Films.

Parallax Pictures, associated with Ken Loach’s recent successes, has a varied slate of pix coming down the pike this year, led by Loach’s own Spanish civil war drama “Land and Freedom,” already tipped for Cannes. From first-timer Philip Davis comes “I.D.,” a tough London-based thriller about an undercover cop infiltrating a gang of football hooligans. Parallax also has “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain,” a period Welsh-set comedy scripted and directed by Chris Monger, with Colm Meaney, Tara Fitzgerald and Hugh Grant.

Charlotte Coleman – Grant’s punkette friend in “Four Weddings” – stars in the black comedy “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook” opposite Hugh O’Conor, who played the young Christy Brown in “My Left Foot.” The Mass Prods, co-production, with German and French coin and directed by tyro Benjamin Ross, world preemed at Sundance last month.

Rising young actor Ian Hart (“Backbeat,” “Land and Freedom”) also features in energetic indie Metrodome’s “Clockwork Mice,” a drama set in a school for disturbed children and directed by Vadim Jean (“Leon the Pig Farmer,” “Beyond Bedlam”). Jean’s co-helmer on “Leon,” Gary Sinyor, makes his solo bow with “Solitaire for 2,” opening in the U.K. this month.

Also due this year from Metrodome is “Proteus,” a sci-fi thriller directed by Bob Keen and set on a North Sea oil rig; Craig Fairbrass, Lance Henriksen and Joan Severance star.

Otherworldly thrills of a different kind are expected from “Institute Benjamenta,” the feature bow by surrealist toonster the Brothers Quay. Starring Mark Rylance (“The Grass Arena”), Alice Krige and Gottfried John, it’s an erotic fairy tale set in a dilapidated old school.

Iain Softley follows his Beatles’ biopic “Backbeat” with “Hackers,” described by scripter Rafael Moreu as a “cyberpunk romantic comedy” about teen computer freaks taking on corporate villains. Cast includes Lorraine Bracco. Gentler comedy is due from Granada’s “Jack and Sarah,” directed by Tim Sullivan with a cast grouping Richard E. Grant, Samantha Mathis, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Imogen Stubbs, Cherie Lunghi and Kate Hardie.

Traditionally an international co-producer, Mark Forstater Prods, has two in the pipeline: the Anglo-French-Belgian “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” a romance set in Hong Kong, scripted and directed by Marion Hansel and starring Stephen Rea and young newcomer Ling Chu; and “Provokator,” a spy thriller set in 1909 Russian-ruled Poland, directed by Krzysztof Lang (“Paper Marriage”) with an all-Polish cast.

Jeremy Thomas’ Recorded Picture Co. and France’s UGC have wrapped a new version of Conrad’s classic South Seas novel “Victory,” scripted and directed by Mark Peploe and starring Willem Dafoe, Irene Jacob, Sam Neill and Rufus Sewell. Recorded Picture also starts lensing Bernardo Bertolucci’s chamber pic “Dancing By Myself” this spring (see Italy roundup, page TK).