Prime Minister David Cameron has caused outrage with his comments regarding a review of the UK film industry due to be published next week.
Cameron has said that he wants the UK film industry to build on ‘the incredible success of recent years’, and that the role of the government should be to ‘support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions’.
The review, which has been carried out by a panel headed by the former Labour culture secretary Lord Smith, is expected to recommend a ‘rebalancing’ of lottery funds towards more mainstream film-making, as well as a stronger export policy with regard to British film. In other words, both the Prime Minister and the soon-to-be published review are suggesting that the already quite meagre government funds given to the film industry should be funnelled entirely towards movies which are considered to be potential ‘blockbusters’, while more niche market projects will be left to fend for themselves.
Cameron wants more British films to follow in the footsteps of recent success stories like The King’s Speech (which cost £8 million to make and took in an estimated £250 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing independent British film of all time). The government plans to fund films which will generate massive amounts of revenue while also raising the profile of creative media ventures in the UK: ‘Just as the British Film Commission has played a crucial role in attracting the biggest and best international studios to produce their films here, so we must incentivise UK producers to chase new markets both here and overseas,’ Cameron has said.
This news has horrified many UK viewers and film-makers. Ken Loach, director of such films as Kes and The Wind that Shakes the Barley, has come out strongly against the ideas put forward by Cameron, saying: ‘This idea that only blockbuster films will get money is crass. It’s a typical Tory notion that only big is good.’ Loach went on to tell the BBC: ‘If you knew what was going to be successful before you made it, we’d all be millionaires; it doesn’t work like that. Public money should go to fund a wide variety of projects and people, because it’s through variety that you find new material, creative ideas and fund imaginative projects.’
The film critic and writer Mark Kermode is also fighting on the side of the downtrodden UK film-maker; he Tweeted: ‘If you don’t have a thriving independent cinema circuit to show adventurous British films, then you have no ‘British Film Industry”, and went on to Tweet: ‘As always, distribution and exhibition are the key. Patronise your local indie cinema. And hug a Projectionist.’ Journalist and screenwriter Charlie Brooker was a little more direct with his Tweets, suggesting: ‘David Cameron can shove everything he’s ever thought about the British Film Industry right up his plastic lizard arse.’
While the review does have some supporters (most notably Julian Fellowes, creator of the Downton Abbey television series and member of Lord Smith’s review panel), Cameron’s comments continue to be widely ridiculed by those working within the UK film industry, as well as by fans of vibrant British film. They have also been condemned as yet another money-making scheme from the Tory-led coalition government that will undermine the creative integrity of an industry which, at its heart, is artistic rather than commercial.