Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The End of the UK Film Council: A return to the 1980s?

Yesterday the ConDems announced their plans to abolish the UKFC as part of their more general policy of slash and burn in public services (Netribution has live commentary here).  We imagine for many people it comes as a surprise to think of the UKFC as a public service, not least the executives judging by the salaries they paid themselves.  They did everything they were supposed to: it wasn't subsidy, culture or art, but investment, economic development and sustainability.  Judging by the reactions so far, the extent to which the UKFC came to represent the British film industry becomes apparent, as if nothing is imaginable without them. 

This, then, is an opportunity to think through some 'old' arguments.  Why, and in what way, should the government fund film?  The UKFC and its advocates seem to be almost completely incapable of making an argument that does not come down to a commercial logic: we invest money into the film industry which has been a growth area of the UK economy.  They always represented the perceived interests of the industry players more than the public, or most individual film-makers, who were required to work within a framework that emphasised commercial potential at the expense of everything else.  Well, commercial logic has come back to bite them: propping up the banking sector is clearly more valuable to the economy than propping up the film industry.  But defending public subsidy at a time like this requires arguments based on other reasons, cultural reasons, political reasons, moral reasons, for example.  It is these arguments, more than any others, that can sustain opposition to the ConDems plans for the Big Society (which looks increasingly like 'there is no such thing as society') and judging by the comments on the 'Save the UKFC' Facebook group it is these arguments that motivate most people to defend the UKFC as well.

So is this the death of the UK film industry?  A return to the bad old days of Thatcher and the almost complete collapse of British film production?  The government's announcement is that it will establish a more direct relationship with the BFI and the Regional Screen Agencies are apprently safe, for the moment.  This would seem to be a return to the state of things pre-UKFC with a modest film-culture infrastructure.  But is the BFI now capable of fulfilling this role, particularly in terms of production?

The devil, as always, is in the detail.  The key questions are: how much will overall subsidy be reduced?  How will it be distributed?
Watch this space.

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