Senior British film industry figures are warning that the UK's cinema sector could face a mini-crisis next summer.
With the London Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Euro 2012 football championship all bound to distract audiences from the movies, the Oscar-winning Chariots Of Fire producer Lord Puttnam has urged the Government to take action now.
"We need enough money and a strong enough initiative to make a bang in a very crowded year. Olympic year is going to be very crowded and to get a lot of attention [for film] is not going to be easy," Lord Puttnam said.
The example of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 stands as a warning of what might happen in the UK if no action is taken. In 2000, Aussie box office figures, which had been on a steady upward curve for more than a decade, suddenly fell – and the Olympics were held to blame.
Puttnam is calling for an initiative akin to the "British Film Year" of 1985 to promote British movies. He has also recommended increasing Government Lottery support for underwriting distributors' release campaigns. The veteran British producer has also suggested some "quantitative easing" for the film industry.
He advocated that lead film agency The British Film Institute should work with the industry to stimulate consumption. "There should be no reason at all why a programme of special events and media promotions can't be created within the next six months," Puttnam said. "This requires the release of some available – not extra – funds. In today's parlance, some 'quantitative easing' to boost the local film business."
In 1985, when UK cinemagoing was in the doldrums and when there were only 54 million cinema admissions per annum (as opposed to around 170 million admissions last year), Puttnam was the figurehead for a campaign "banging the drum" on behalf of British movies.
"We were going nowhere and we had to do something. We needed to shout, we needed a megaphone," Puttnam recalled of the British Film Year campaign, which was launched with a £500,000 investment from government minister Kenneth Baker. "Lord Attenborough, myself and many others were given this little bit of money and managed to get a pretty ambitious scheme up and running in four months. We managed to dragoon the support of just about every actor, actress and director. Everybody did something. We sent people back to their home towns to talk about cinema."
Chief Executive of the Film Distributors' Association Mark Batey has welcomed Puttnam's remarks. "Next year will be very challenging," the FDA boss acknowledged. "We completely support David's call for extra action."
Some British filmmakers are looking to get into the Olympic spirit. For example, Mike Leigh has made a new film starring Eddie Marsan and commissioned by BBC Films and Film4 that will show as part of The Cultural Olympiad next year.