UK Council picks hit with fest auds

Doomed org backs 13 Toronto entries including award winner

While the U.K. Film Council may still be mourning the announcement of its abolishment by 2012, the public funding body showed it was worth its weight in gold at this year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

Two Brit pics funded by the UKFC took top honors at the fest this year: Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech,” one of the most buzzed-about titles at Toronto, snapped up the People’s Choice prize, while Justin Chadwick’s Kenya-set pic “The First Grader” was runner-up for that kudo.

A total of 13 UKFC funded pics were in the Toronto lineup, including Sally Hawkins starrer “Made in Dagenham,” Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe,” Rowan Joffe’s “Brighton Rock” and Warp Films’ “Submarine,” which the Weinstein Co. bought for domestic distribution at the fest for just shy of seven figures, plus a major marketing commitment.

A day after the fest, National Geographic Entertainment snagged U.S. rights to “The First Grader.”

The success has given UKFC supporters some ammunition in their fight to keep the org alive.

Producer Finola Dwyer (“An Education”) says both “The King’s Speech” and “The First Grader” are the essential type of films the UKFC has supported over the past 10 years.

Dwyer believes neither pic would have been made without UKFC support.

” ‘The King’s Speech’ didn’t have a U.K. broadcaster involved, which makes UKFC involvement the difference between it happening or not,” she says.

She adds that the support of U.K. distrib Momentum, an Alliance Films company, gave a huge cushion to helping the pic come into fruition.

“As for ‘The First Grader,’ ” says Dwyer, “Well, these types of films are virtually impossible to make without the support of the UKFC.”

Producer Iain Smith says the success of UKFC-funded films at Toronto this year is testament to the fact that the public funding body has provided a very useful function over its 10-year tenure.

“To have 13 UKFC-funded films at Toronto is a lot,” he says. “Particularly in the world we live in today, where money is short. The hit rate here was very good and a lot more productive than the money that was spent before the UKFC.”

But, he adds: “The significance of a successful British Toronto is still a question of what will happen in the future.”