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Tits Up.

Posted July 29th, 2010 by Ben

So some of the dust is settling after Tuesday’s sudden earthquake.

Though not so sudden and unexpected, my brother, bless him, reminded me yesterday of his own rather tactless post-election jokes to some friends of ours who work at the Film Council. Back in May the UKFC had just reached some internal decisions about its new structure and who was to be doing what, our friends were delighted that, as they saw it, all the right people had got the right jobs. Chris, with his usual cheshire cat grin, thought it a good time to tease them that now the Tories were in power they’d all be fired before the summer. How the pair of us have ever been funded for anything I simply don’t know.

Oh and yeah, those are my cards on the table. I’m a filmmaker who has been funded by the UKFC and I’d also consider myself friends with many of the people who work there. I also live in London so for some of you leaving responses on the SP UKFC poll I’m clearly the enemy. I’ve just spent a few minutes scrolling through the comments that the poll has provoked and though a touch repetitive it’s well worth it.

A lot of people are, like me, disgusted and dismayed. A great many people applaud Mike Figgis for his stirring battle cry of take your teeth from the tit of government money. Sadly though I think a lot of those metaphorically shouting “Hell Yeah Mike Figgis” have either misunderstood him or the nature of the Film Council.

Mike’s comment is that “a true independent cinema functions without milk from the tit of the government, we owe them nothing and they don’t own us”, and as someone who doesn’t want to owe anything to this shameful coalition it’s hard not to say amen to that. But surely Mike is referring to “a true independent cinema” that exists already, something that we are all part of which will continue to scratch a living from the cracks in the pavement.

You don’t have to scroll far through this blog to find my own excitement at the new possibilities that have opened up for truly independent filmmaking thanks to recent advances in camera technology. My brother and I are currently developing a film which, despite our comparatively good connections to the UKFC, we had always intended to fund chiefly through private sources. There are a myriad of reasons for this, chief amongst them the fact that it finally feels possible to make a genuinely beautiful and cinematic film without spending millions. So in this respect Mike is entirely correct – an independent cinema exists outside of public funding and it will continue come what may.

But lets throw in a word of caution. “Independent” as a cinematic label actually means “independent of the hollywood studio system”. It doesn’t mean independent of public money and it certainly doesn’t mean independent of money. To make an independent film you need to find private investors, whether that’s a couple of hundred thousand individuals putting in tiny sums or a couple of people putting in hundreds of thousands. We are currently living through a financial ice age and you don’t have to be Robert Peston to see that this means investors are going to be inclined to be (small-c) conservative. So all of you damning the film council for not being adventurous enough in its spending choices had better get good and warm on that bitter glee because it’s likely to be all you’ll have to keep you going this winter.

More importantly lets have a look at this governmental tit and remind ourselves of the definition of QUANGO. Dear old Mr.Paisley my politics teacher will be delighted to find that I still remember that this is an acronym which stands for Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation. The UK Film Council is a distributor of public finances but it is not the government but one of a number of bodies deliberately designed to be at arms length from the coalface of politics. This distance serves many functions, many utterly cynical like the fact that it almost institutionalised the UKFC as something everyone, even the Culture Secretary could safely attack. But it does also mean that the decisions the Film Council take are not first checked by ministers in whichever temporary administration happens to have slipped into office.

The future structure of film funding in the UK is now quite foggy. The general thought is that the BFI will take on the Film Council’s role. A lesser voiced thought is that the BFI will then answer directly to the Culture Ministry, in much the same way that the new “independent” schools that our Big Society are resting free from local control will also be answerable only to the Education Minister.

The abolition of the Film Council does not rip the tit of government from our mouths. Rather, we could well end up in a situation where the only body interested in funding your film is answerable directly to the tit.


Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture.

  1. Sue Everett

    I couldn’t agree more. And love the picture of the tit at the bottom…

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