The British Film Institute (BFI) is to become the new champion for British film, inheriting the funding responsibilities of the UK Film Council and ending a period of uncertainty for the industry.
Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, said yesterday that a fundamentally changed BFI would have a new board and management structure while it established its new role over the coming months.
"We need a new strategic body to oversee the future of development of film in this country," he said. "On this basis, the BFI will be in charge of delivering the Government's policy for film." Mr Vaizey said it was an opportunity to "unite the British film industry" and added that, from April 2011, the BFI would distribute lottery money to British filmmakers, decide which films would receive tax credits and oversee any strategy to support film in the regions.
The Government axed the Film Council in July, prompting a stream of protests. Tim Bevan, the Council's chairman, condemned the move, saying that "abolishing the most successful film support organisation the UK has ever had is a bad decision, imposed without any consultation or evaluation. British film, one of the UK's more successful growth industries, deserves better."
Greg Dyke, the chairman of the BFI, denied he would have a hands-on role in the expanded organisation. "The moment the chairman tries to get involved in deciding what films should be made he should be shot," he said. "Our aim is to try and increase the annual production budget we use to invest in film from £15m to £18m next year. That's achievable if we reduce our overheads."
Mr Dyke did not confirm where cost-cutting would take place, but added: "We will certainly see a cheaper operation. You don't need two legal departments, for example."
Mr Vaizey said that lottery funding for the film industry was set to increase to £43m annually over the next four years from current subsidies of around £27m a year.
Founded in 1933, the BFI started an Experimental Film Fund in 1952, financing early work by Ridley Scott and Ken Russell. It funded Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract in 1982 as well as the work of auteurs such as Derek Jarman and Terence Davies over the next 20 years. The Labour Government closed down its production operations in 1999 when it established the Film Council. "The Film Council was spending 20 per cent of its money on overheads," Mr Dyke said. "We need to be aware of the great competition that there will be for the money we have."