Film-makers, actors and critics hit back yesterday at David Cameron's call for film funding to focus on "commercially successful" pictures, arguing it would "dilute the quality of the product and mean we don't move forward culturally".
Speaking on a visit to Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire before the publication of a review into film policy, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the British film industry, saying it added £4bn annually to the economy and made an "incalculable contribution to our culture".
However, he also said that funding should focus on "helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions" – a shift in focus towards producing box office hits that many fear will come at the expense of small-scale, independent productions.
The British director Sally Potter, whose 2009 film Rage starred Jude Law and Judi Dench, said: "The success of a film cannot be measured in purely financial terms.
"The search for pure profitability as the ultimate criterion for cinematic success is a bankrupt way of thinking for an industry that is, by its nature, volatile, ephemeral and unpredictable."
How Mr Cameron expects those who invest in films to know in advance which ones will be commercially successful is not clear. Eddie Redmayne, who has recently starred in My Week with Marilyn and was shortlisted yesterday for Bafta's Rising Star award, said: "If you look at The King's Speech that's a great model, but who was to know it would be as successful as it was? I think we punch well above our weight, but that comes about through brave decisions and bold mistakes. If everything is to be commercially minded then of course it's going to end up diluting the quality of the product and mean we don't move forward culturally."
Lord Smith, the former Labour Culture Secretary, commissioned a review to find out how the Government can better support UK film-making. Not all see commercial success as a barrier to creativity.
The director David Pearson, whose documentary Mugabe and the White African surprised critics by playing for 10 weeks in cinemas in Leicester Square, said: "The presumption in certain quarters is that people will think David Cameron means we have to make big hundred-million dollar commercial movies. But you can be successful making a small film. Not enough people consider, 'What is the market for the films I want to make?'"
Speaking at Pinewood, which has served as a location for myriad blockbusters including the James Bond and Harry Potter series, Mr Cameron said: "Just as the British Film Commission has played a crucial role in attracting the biggest and best international studios to produce their films here, so we must incentivise UK producers to chase new markets both here and overseas."
Movie night: PM's DVDs
When the White House posted a photo of Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron during the US President's visit to No 10 last May, internet users began identifying DVDs on a shelf behind them. Among the films in the Camerons' collection were: Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill; a Star Wars box-set; Armageddon, with Bruce Willis; the teen horror flick Scream; Layer Cake, with Daniel Craig; and The Departed.