Response to the UK Film Council's consultation document: Three Years On.
Submitted by Sylvia Harvey and Margaret Dickinson, 20 February, 2004

Response to the UK Film Council from the University of Lincoln, AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies

Sylvia Harvey
Principal Associate Director

Margaret Dickinson
Senior Research Fellow

20 February 2004


1. In a short time the UK Film Council has established a strong presence in relation to the feature film business and the Government. We think it has been most effective in making an economic case to the Government for supporting British film production and the development of related infrastructure and skills base. It has also argued that film has value in a wider context but up to now we find this has been less precisely and less forcefully stated.

2. We think a list of national priorities for film should include archiving and film-related scholarship. We recognise that the UK Film Council may regard these as BFI responsibilities and for this reason does not refer to them.

3. We welcome the work of the Research and Statistics Unit and have not yet fully examined the information available. Our assessment so far is that more data on regional output would be helpful and more detailed research tracking films through distribution with an emphasis on films with poor records.


4. BECTU, rather surprisingly, is not mentioned. As the main representative organisation of the workforce in all sectors of the industry we think closer cooperation with BECTU would improve opportunities both for research and the dissemination of information. In relation to the nations and regions we would suggest closer working with Local Authorities, Regional Arts Councils and Regional Cultural Forums. Closer cooperation could extend the reach of the Regional Screen Agencies and make for better integration within their regions.

5. Establishing the right relationship with the BFI will be the key to the success of long- term policy objectives. The Film Council should value the critical, analytic function of the BFI and make this one of the main criteria in defining a division of responsibility between the Council and the BFI. The importance of the BFI as a national institution would be diminished if its role were to be defined as narrowly educational or in terms of an artificial divide between film as commerce and film as culture. The BFI provides important services to education, to the public and to film professionals but it is able to do this because it is more than a service provider. While an important part of the BFI's work will be to develop and make more accessible resources such as its library and information service and the National Film and Television Archive, such tasks should be integrated with the role of supporting and participating in scholarship, public debate, and experimentation.

In order to perform effectively the BFI needs a considerable degree of autonomy and needs to be seen as independent from direct government influence. Its relative autonomy is important firstly, in the interests of pluralism and secondly, because we live in a fast changing environment in which it is not easy to predict commercial, political or social developments. In order to respond to the possible challenges of the future it is necessary to support a very wide range of research, comment and experimentation some of which may seem now of little practical relevance and some may not be entirely in tune with the wisdom of the present.

6. We have not seen the proposed revised treaties and as the report does not include this information we reserve comment.


7. At present we can only comment on one aspect. It is our experience that France, Germany and the USA have cultural agencies which provide far more support for foreign audiences and film-makers who wish to see films in addition to those on current release in their countries, or to develop contacts with national film-makers, critics, film historians. We appreciate that it is the British Council rather than the UK Film Council which has the relevant responsibility in these areas but we would suggest that the UK Film Council might be able to offer more support and advice in this work.

8. At present we do not have enough information to comment usefully.

9. At present we have no comment other than referring to our point under 7. Raising the profile of British film in a cultural context seems likely to create or increase an audience for current British releases.

Diversity and inclusion:

10. We are concerned that there appears to be no plan to promote artistic diversity or diversity of content. We also find the use of the word 'diversity' in Council publications problematic because its meaning seems to be narrowed to refer only to ethnic, gender or age divisions within a population. By contrast, successive Broadcasting Acts have used the word primarily with reference to generic variety of programme content. We find that in the context of the media the general public also assume the reference is to content unless otherwise indicated.

A certain confusion therefore results from the terminology as it seems to elide two quite separate issues, one essentially related to equal opportunities - whether there are groups in the population under-represented in audiences and production teams; the other related to issues of choice and creative expression which affect all audiences and creative workers. The distinction is important not only in terms of developing policies for promoting diversity of content but also for addressing the issues of equal opportunity adequately. Since there is a de facto division between mainstream cinema and forms of cinema described as 'specialist' in UK Film Council documents it is important to consider inclusion in both areas. For example it may be noted that the under-representation of women at senior levels in the workforce appears to be greater in mainstream production than in 'specialist' production.

11. We think low-income groups may be missing out on what the UK Film Council has to offer. We recognise that there are references to the problems, for example of the children of low-income parents obtaining media training and entry to the industry, but they are mostly in the context of the exclusion of ethnic minorities. We think it important to separate the two issues. Otherwise there is a danger firstly, that low-income people from the majority community might justly complain of discrimination, secondly that if there are reasons other than economic ones explaining why minorities are under represented, those problems can be more effectively addressed if isolated from the more general question of low income. We think also that people in the regions and nations may still be under-served. Although we welcome the Council's regional strategy we think it may not be adequate given firstly, the long history of London-centred cinema culture and secondly, the recent and continuing reduction of television production in the regions which previously provided important training and work opportunities.

12. This is partly covered by our comments on partners above.

In addition we suggest that a better regulation of internships would help all low-income people seeking entry to the industry. While internships are potentially an excellent adjunct to education and training, at present many so-called internships are grossly exploitative. One example will suffice. We found that one of the major, well known feature producing companies was using interns who were not shadowing paid employees but were doing, unpaid, essential work, expected to work many evenings and some weekends and on an open ended arrangement rather than for a fixed term. The work did provide good experience and some eventually were offered paid jobs but our point is that if it is necessary to 'buy' a job by donating many months of more than full time labour this will tend to exclude people who do not have their own money or parents in a position to support them.

Excellence and innovation:

13. We think that this is more the BFI's area of responsibility or should be carried out by a variety of organisations, particularly local ones, funded through the Council. We are not in a position to comment about the adequacy of work currently being done.

14.The strategy is achievable. We have reservations as to how appropriate it is. We see a case for more synergies with HEFCE funded courses and wonder if the proposal was based on adequate analysis of existing provision either of conventional undergraduate and post-graduate courses or continuing professional development.

15. The Film Council should continue to research digital technologies and where appropriate provide funds to assist in their purchase both for cinemas and non-traditional exhibition venues. We think a capital strategy for independent cinemas is also a high priority. While we support the commitment to working with the circuits and multiplexes to encourage them to show more varied product, we do not think the Council should provide them with public funds for the installation of digital projection. Past experience suggests that the central management of such venues will be a bar to any real involvement by local communities in programming or use of facilities.

16. We are concerned that there is very little support for films which intentionally differ from the kind backed by the Premiere fund. We suggest that a fund should be set up to do this. It should be separate from the other funds and should be able to support development, production and promotion. Our thinking here is that although the brief of the New Cinema Fund includes 'creativity and innovation', it seems to interpret these fairly narrowly. So far it seems willing to support on the one hand, feature films which are cheaper and more British but not radically different from those supported by the Premiere fund and on the other, shorts made by young, often first time directors whose longer term aim is to make conventional feature films. We think there is also a case to support film-makers who want to develop different cinema strategies over the long term. Such film-makers can achieve a high profile and reach significant audiences. Examples are as diverse as Derek Jarman, the Dogme group and Nicolas Philibert (Etre et Avoir). There are influential film-makers who continue through their lives to move backwards and forwards between cinema fiction, documentary and more experimental forms. Godard and Agnes Varda would be examples. The UK has never provided much support or encouragement for film-makers who do not settle down in the mainstream. To provide such support is difficult because, by definition, there are no rules to follow. The BFI Production Board attempted to do the job and although its work was criticised from all sides it did launch the careers of, among others, Mike Leigh and Peter Greenaway, two of the few British film-makers whom foreign cinema-goers are likely to have heard of; and compared to other film funding sources of the time, it gave better opportunities to women (e.g. Sally Potter) and black filmmakers (e.g. Menelik Shebazz). We are not suggesting that a new fund should be like the Production Board but it should be structured differently from the New Cinema Fund and in a way which permits a more pluralist approach.


17. The Council provides a great deal of information but it would be helpful if there was a regularly updated document which brought together key information including a list of board members and all senior staff, and of funding opportunities; in addition or linked with this, short newsletters could be useful providing very brief summaries of recent reports and information on current consultations. There should be hard copy versions which could be supplied to the RSAs and major public libraries.

18. We think the Council could improve by developing better human networks in the regions, through contacts mentioned under 4 and could make more use of established local information centres like public libraries. We recognise that the UK Film Council has tried to consult widely. However in our view the pattern has involved rather too many public consultations launched with insufficient publicity and sometimes allowing insufficient time to respond.

19.We have not yet done work relevant to this.

20. The Council could use the human networks and information centres mentioned under 18.



Sylvia Harvey
Professor of Broadcasting Policy
Principal Associate Director
AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies
Faculty of Media and Humanities
University of Lincoln
Brayford Pool
Lincoln LN6 7TS

Tel: 01522 886431


Margaret Dickinson
Senior Research Fellow



Last modified 2 August, 2004 ;