New tsar to run UK film fund

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THE LINCHPIN of the Government's policy for promoting British film - a pounds 10m annual levy to to boost the box-office prospects of movies such as Elizabeth and Notting Hill - has collapsed following a stand-off with TV companies and Hollywood studios, writes Marie Woolf.

At next month's Cannes film festival ministers had hoped to announce the creation of a major promotional fund for UK movies, to be raised from a marketing levy on producers. But industry sources say film executives have "torpedoed" the proposal because they thought it would cost them too much.

Last week a powerful working group, including ministers and senior industry figures, met to put the final touches to the Government's blueprint for promoting British film. It conceded that plans to put a voluntary levy on broadcasting, video and distribution of films would have to be scrapped because of fierce industry opposition.

The meeting followed the presentation by Sir Richard Attenborough of a document on film-makers' views on the Government's levy plans. "The All Industry Fund has fallen by the wayside because no one would agree to it," said one source. "The BBC and Channel Four and the US majors wouldn't agree to it. It's collapsed."

The new strategy for films is to be launched at Cannes by Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary. He will also announce plans to appoint a powerful "film tsar" who will have the power to distribute pounds 150m of grants and lottery money to fund new UK films.

The tsar will head British Film, a supervisory body responsible for funding new movie projects, which will encompass bodies such as the British Film Commission. John Woodward, director of the British Film Institute, has been tipped as a front-runner for the chief executive's job.

Industry leaders say they want a business manager and not an actor or director to head the new body to help get new projects off the ground. But the Islington-born film director Alan Parker, who directed Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express and The Commitments, is said to be a possible chairman of the new body.

The Secretary of State will announce that Hollywood studios have agreed to pay a "training" levy to raise millions of pounds to fund the next generation of designers, cameramen and editors. Under the plans, all studios making movies in Britain will pay up to pounds 39,000 per film to help fund film courses and apprenticeships in Britain.

The levy, revealed in the Independent on Sunday last month, will be announced by ministers in May. They will also redefine what a British film is, to establish closer links to funding. Ministers who want to repeat the success of movies such as The Full Monty and Shakespeare in Love, have set up a Los Angeles bureau to promote UK talent in Hollywood.