DCMS plans British Film Institute and UK Film Council merger

By Culture24 Staff | 08 September 2009
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A picture of a circular glass cinema lit up at night

The BFI is responsible for the London IMAX cinema (above). Robert Aleck, www.cynexia.com

The government has announced plans to merge the British Film Institute and the UK Film Council into a single body following discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Council, which was set up nine years ago in a bid to improve public funding of films and training, earned £24 million from the DCMS in 2007, £16 million of which went towards the 76-year-old BFI's responsibilities for preserving the National Film Archive and operating the BFI Southbank.

Film Minister Siôn Simon said the potential fusion, which is due to take place later this year, aimed to boost investment in film without impacting on the infrastructure of the organisations.

"Film in Britain is highly valued, both for its tremendous contribution to our cultural life and its economic success," he said.

"The BFI is one of our great cultural institutions and cares for the world's most significant archive of film and television. A new, streamlined single body that represents the whole of the film sector will offer a better service both for film makers and film lovers."

Tim Bevan, Chair of the UK Film Council, welcomed the move. "The UK Film Council is a success story, but the truth is that when we were set up in 2000 a kind of artificial separation occurred," he said.

"On the one hand was the UKFC, which supports film and the film industry. On the other was the BFI, which celebrates film culture and cares for our film heritage. In my opinion it can’t be right for them to remain disconnected.

Mr Bevan believes the climate for public funding is going to get much tougher. "It's therefore sensible that we ask ourselves why there are two publicly-funded film organisations in the UK," he said. "We need to look at the scope for savings across the board, to push as much money as we can into new film activity."

BFI Chair Greg Dyke gave a more qualified backing to the idea. "The BFI is in good shape and having a very successful year, but we welcome this move if it enables us to further develop our potential to provide a better service to the public," he said.

"The BFI is a much-cherished organisation and has a vital and leading role to play in developing film culture and heritage in this country."

Jim Barratt, former Head of Research and Statistics at the UKFC, said he was "agnostic about the merits" of the proposal. "Reading between the lines, the merger is a done deal," he observed.

"It's a step in the same direction towards greater consolidation that gave rise to the UKFC in the first place, with the merging of a number of functions and agencies.

"We're not talking about a proposal up for public consultation – it's closer in spirit to a public statement of intended matrimony that just needs someone to order the wedding cake, book the honeymoon and decide on the wording of the wedding vows."

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