Film: Lights go out at the BFI

No new British arthouse movies for two years? What's going on?

WHEN CHRIS Smith announced that the British Film Institute will give way to a "Film Council" next year, with an increase in total spending on film in this country, it seemed like a brave new cinematic world was in the offing. In fact, the BFI has been working against the interests of our most promising film-makers for the past six months.

I'll come clean here: I'm one of several people who have found their script funding frozen by the BFI - since last February, in fact. Just after I came on board to co-write a feature being developed by Adam Roberts about the Elizabethan composer John Dowland, the curtain effectively came down on BFI feature film funding when they instituted their own spending review and decided to cancel funds for all the films being made or developed under their aegis. Now it seems that the lights have gone out and everyone has gone home, too. Along with several other film-makers including Steve McClean, whose feature When the Music Stops was cancelled in pre-production, we have been left in the lurch.

In the last week or so, experienced film journalists have tried to grapple with the complexities of the Government's position. Generally speaking, a cautious welcome has been extended. The Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, proudly announced an increase in total film spending last week, but the BFI produced a "we're giving up making feature films" document entitled A Time of Change. Virulently anti-intellectual, anti-London and otherwise displaying all manner of dated John Major-ish notions, it proclaimed the desire for "doing less but doing it more efficiently": as if doing nothing well was a fabulous achievement. It's an especially poignant moment since, with the international success of films like Andrew Koffing's Gallivant and the upturn in quality exemplified by the forthcoming Francis Bacon Love is the Devil biopic, the BFI was finally getting its film-making sorted out.

It seems this organisation may be called the "Film Council", may have pounds 72m to spend, and may be up and running by the end of 1999. But with British Screen losing its remit next April, that's it for small budget films. The BBC and ITV companies have made it clear that they are only interested in bigger budget movies. They all want a "Full Monty".

If you consider that funding for art house movies in this country effectively ceased last February, and will only resume by the end of next year, you are talking about two years in which arthouse movies - difficult, challenging, hopefully groundbreaking small movies, often by first-time directors - will not be made or developed in Britain. All to save pounds 1m (BFI Production's annual budget).

Some might say that two years is not long to wait, and production will obviously resume in some form. But what does it say about any organisation - Chris Smith's department or the BFI management - that it suspends business while a review is carried out? Imagine closing the NFT and the RSC while Whitehall chews over the exact sums to give theatre. Imagine closing Heathrow for the duration of the Terminal Five Public Enquiry.

It may sound odd but it's actually very hard to write a script with no idea who you're going to pitch it to: any film-maker worth their salt has a clear idea not only of their audience but of their funding.

Previously, if you were making a small-budget movie in this country, you would have a chance to pitch at the BFI, British Screen and the Arts Council (lottery money) - all of them with slightly different styles. Now the giant Film Council is the only port of call, toeing only one line. And no one even knows what that line is yet.

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game