Since writing a blog post about those film-makers who were happy to see the back of the Film Council, I’ve had a couple of debates with people who thought that I supported the closure of the UKFC. To make it clear, I’ll repeat what I said in that post:
So, whilst I have sympathy with those who say that the Film Council was exclusive and a force that stifled the industry; whilst I agree that the slate of films produced since 1999 is, apart from those of Andrea Arnold, staggeringly mediocre (compared to the exuberance of the 1990s); whilst I agree that the enormous sums spent on salaries and offices don’t seem like the best use of limited resources, and that way in which the Digital Screen Network was implemented was a scandal, I’m not whooping with delight to see the back of the Film Council. It was an ideological move, the implications of which have not been thought through, and that could potentially be devastating for inward investment if that work is not maintained. [emphasis mine. Well, obviously, I wrote it the first time too, but, you know…]
I think that the UKFC has been a moderate success in promoting Britain as a centre for production for Hollywood films. I think it has been a relative failure in promoting a self-sustaining British film industry outside that template.
Today, news has emerged in The Independent that Ed Vaizey, stung by the high-profile defences of the UKFC, the 5,000 people on Facebook who want to save it, and the 25,000 signatures on a petition to that effect, has called members of the Film Council in to demand an explanation. In Vaizey’s world, these people only hold these opinions because the UKFC told them to.
In the Fantasy Land of Ed Vaizey, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood have nothing better to do with their days than to get involved in funding disputes in foreign countries that will not affect them one way or the other. In the FLoEV people think that the UKFC is symbolic of the British film industry as a whole because they are wilfully being misled by radicals like Bill Nighy rather than the fact that that’s exactly what it was set up to do. It was meant to be the visible face of the British film industry, your one-stop shop for film in Britain. The fact that people think it is tends to suggest that it was quite effective in at least one way…
Mr Vaizey’s letter seems to be most infuriated by the fact that the UKFC claim that they are actually doing a good job: “It looks as though sources at the Film Council have been overzealously briefing in order to protect their interests. As a result they may be damaging the film industry that they purport to represent.”
Yes, in the Fantasy Land of Ed Vaizey, a Film Council that said: “Actually, you’re right. We’re pretty incompetent. We were going to fund a good film once, but the script got lost in the aftermath of one of our larger money-fights. John Woodward had just copped a bunch of £20 notes in the eye, and may have shredded it out of pique.” That would be better for the film industry than having an organisation that champions its own work, when its major role has been to champion its own work around the world.
And the height of the flatulent, pompous imbecility that furnishes much of the Fantasy Land of Ed Vaizey is the idea that summoning the UKFC to his offices, like a headmaster who has just found an exercise book of ribald limericks in the boy’s showers, and telling The Independent all about it will, in some way, not make him look like a massive twonk. If this sort of thing doesn’t stop, he will be keeping the whole British film industry in after school. There will be no tax breaks for anyone, if you can’t behave. It’s your own time you’re wasting…
Perhaps he would like to interview the UKFC about their poor value for money whilst sitting on the £467 sofa he tried to make to taxpayer foot the bill for, sipping quietly from a nice glass of red balanced on his £607 table.
The most unnerving thing, however, isn’t the unnecessary and juvenile macho posturing, but the fact that this doesn’t seem to have been anticipated. Although the DCMS has claimed that there will be £3 million more invested in British films, and that the inward investment tax break will continue, they haven’t explained how this is to work at all, and it appears that they haven’t explained it because they just don’t know.
Generally muttering something vague about the BFI is not going to satisfy people that this isn’t politically motivated, or that the DCMS has given it any real thought. The fact that it was done without consultation as a testosterone-fuelled sop to the more frothing Tory commentators only makes it look worse. The people of Britain cherish the illusion that they have a film industry and the UKFC is a large part of that illusion, as it was designed to be. The DCMS may as well have oiled themselves up, dragged Richard Curtis into a gym and beaten him bloody with dumbells.
We’re told that the inward investment will continue, but we were told that immediate government cuts on the scale we have seen would cause a double-dip recession. We were told that the NHS was safe in your hands. We were told that the we would regain ‘a sense of decency and liberty’ when dealing with migrants.
The reason people are still worried despite your protestations, is that they don’t believe you. Your protestations have, on the whole, turned out to be, for want of a better word, arse-dribble. From the need to raise VAT to nuclear power stations, statements made by any member of the coalition government have turned out to be the worst sort of guffluent, excused by ‘the structural deficit we could not possibly have known about’. Apart from by looking at the budget in any one of the last 13 years.
When any department makes any commitment to future spending, we must assume that the minister responsible is crossing their fingers behind their back, when they’re not actively chuckling behind their well-manicured hands.
It’s not the UKFC’s briefings that make us fear for the future of the British film industry, Mr Vaizey, it’s you.