Film-makers set scene for a revival: A plan aimed at putting the British movie industry back on a commercial footing is being given the star treatment. David Lister attends its launch

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THE BRITISH film industry yesterday launched a plan to persuade the Government to revitalise production in the United Kingdom.

It envisages a new Films Act that would involve levying a tax on big American film distributors and exhibitors who make use of British talent and resources, as well as giving them new tax breaks, at no cost to the taxpayer. These companies would then recycle the levied money into new British films of their choice.

At the same time, leading lights in the UK film industry admitted that for many years Britain had not made enough popular and commercial films, and signalled that the industry would now move away from art-house movies into making the sort of films the mass public wanted to see.

The new campaign, called Impact (Initiative For Motion Picture, Arts, Commerce and Technology), was launched at the Savoy Hotel in London at a meeting attended by more than 500 leading figures in the industry. The campaign also has the support of the Conservative Party Bow Group of more than 100 MPs.

They want a government White Paper on the industry to create a market-led British film policy and reform the 'withholding tax' whereby foreign film stars have to pay a 25 per cent tax on their gross income.

The campaign says that the tax has driven major stars out of Britain and back to Hollywood or into Europe, where tax conditions are more favourable.

Other key proposals are for an annual levy of the gross UK revenues from feature films on the leading theatrical and video distributors, cinema chains and satellite film channels. These companies would be encouraged to invest the levies in new British films and be rewarded by a 100 per cent, year-one tax write-off, as well as benefiting from the profits of these new films. The choice of which films to invest in would be up to the distributors and cinema chains.

Impact estimates that this would generate a minimum of pounds 60m a year and possibly as much as pounds 160m a year in new finance.

When asked whether British film-makers were really committed to making popular commercial films, the producer David Puttnam said that considerable soul-searching had been going on in the industry.

'The auteurs in Europe have realised we are going nowhere. We've lost our own audience. We've lost touch with them. My generation of producers now have a schizophrenic attitude,' he said. The press was partly responsible for this schizophrenia. The broadsheet press sneered at attempts to make commercial films while the popular press would only publicise films that had already been popular in the United States.

More meetings are planned with government ministers and Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage. Meanwhile, the stars, including Sean Connery, Jeremy Irons, Helen Mirren, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sir Dirk Bogarde, Sir Anthony Hopkins and George Harrison, will continue to lobby on behalf of the campaign.

The actor Michael Caine, who was at yesterday's launch, said: 'I was delighted to hear at last people using the word commercial. It used to be a four-letter word.'