The government has wasting millions chasing the dream of a Hollywood-style film industry—at the expense of genuine innovation. The answer is to shut down the UK film councilby Colin MacCabe / December 16, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Fish Tank: a fine British film part-funded by UKFC. The exception, not the rule
In November, the UK Film Council issued a consultation document for its future strategy. This came on the heels of a press release in August from the department for culture, media and sport stating its intention to merge the UKFC and the British Film Institute. What both documents actually signalled was the total failure of a key plank in new Labour’s cultural policy.
When the then secretary of state Chris Smith set up the UKFC in 2000 the aim was to create a “sustainable film industry” in Britain. Out would go the world of production companies living hand-to-mouth making small films, and in would come an industry to rival Hollywood. The national lottery would provide subsidy on a scale to dwarf anything that had gone before. The British Film Institute was stripped of its production activities and deemed an “educational” body, although all its innovative educational experiments were abandoned. A new organisation, the UKFC, was established, to provide the strategic vision and investment that would create a gleaming new profitable future.
There were some voices even then—and mine was one of them—who claimed that a sustainable film industry was a fantasy. Moreover, it was a fantasy that had failed to materialise in every decade from Alexander Korda in the 1930s to David Puttnam in the 1970s and 1980s.
Film plays a very different role in Britain, both culturally and industrially, than it does in the US. For complex historical reasons, both theatre and television occupy a much more dominant position in Britain. In addition, the fact of a shared language with the US makes our industry a branch campus of Hollywood. This means that inevitably the film industry is a hodgepodge of small production companies and big studios that make their living on the margins of the American film and the British television industries. Until the creation of the UKFC, all the existing forms of subsidy in the British film industry recognised this fact—from the venerable British Film Institute Production Board (which funded very low budget experimental films) to the more recent British Screen (which provided additional monies to commercial films) and the completely new “franchises” scheme, through which lottery money was put directly into production companies.