Film-world levy to put Britain in the frame

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THE Government is asking the film industry to pay a voluntary levy in order to raise pounds 15m a year for training, distribution and script development.

The Film Policy Review Group, chaired by the films minister, Tom Clarke, and Stewart Till, chairman of Polygram Film Entertainment, has asked the industry to pay half a per cent of the film and video companies' film revenues. It has also recommended that the Government open a UK film office in Los Angeles to entice Hollywood producers to make films in Britain.

The group was set up by the culture minister, Chris Smith, with the objective of finding ways of improving the market share of British films. It also wants to see film education in schools and the Arts Council switching lottery money away from production of new British films and into development and distribution.

Mr Smith said yesterday it was planned to have the voluntary levy in place by next year and the film office in Los Angeles up and running by this September. Mr Clarke added: "This report is the biggest review of British film for 30 years. It is not a quick fix.

"Rather, a logical series of interlocking proposals which will in time create a more robust and competitive industry to benefit of British audiences and the British economy."

But the initiative was condemned as "misbegotten" by the film critic Alexander Walker. He said there was too much emphasis placed on big money, as successful pictures like Mrs Brown and The Full Monty "could not have been smaller".

He also said: "We are already known in Hollywood for what we make. We don't need rebranding or promoting out of our class or beyond our creative powers.

"Hollywood isn't really a creative industry, it is an imitative one. What's imitated is the last big success and this has made for a formulaic predictability, compared with the freshness of our own one off approach."

Film publicist Sara Keene, who was on one of the review group sub-committees, defended the notion of film education in schools: "If you educated people about film, then they demand better films and will not be satisfied with formulaic and lightweight Hollywood-style movies."

Further proposals in the report aim to strengthen the supporting infrastructure for developing the film industry. The report recommends that the statutory definition of a British film should be amended to make it more practical and user-friendly. Additionally, a new definition of a "culturally British film" should be introduced to assist monitoring and marketing. Mr Smith said: "The Government places special emphasis on the creative industries. They make up a huge and growing part of our economy, bigger even than manufacturing and with limitless potential as new forms of communication make access to creative input ever easier and more enticing."