Jeremy Hunt has been making disturbing noises in many directions of late, for example, toward the BBC's online operations and the Arts council, but here's an astonishing piece of news which leaves me almost speechless.
The announcement is a little bit odd, and there are a couple of things that stand out. The Guardian quotes his answer to a question from Ian Paisley Jnr, no less:
"Hunt said he was keen for £3m per annum saved via cuts to the council's administration to be given more directly to film-makers. He also said the plans were not absolutely final, and invited people to voice opinions on the matter".
Three million pounds? When in its 10 year history the UKFC has raised £700 million in worldwide box office? What the hell? This must be an ideological move. It's certainly not financial. Here's another important point. Indie Wire reports that:
"UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt proposed merging and cutting a number of art and sport organizations today, with the goal of, “establishing a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute.” The government would still back films using lottery funds, but, in the words of statement today, “This would support front-line services while ensuring greater value for money.”"
What front line services? Are you in fact suggesting budget cuts, with money basically going in to administration of the BFI, and the BFI having to make the painful decision as to whether to fund new films or promote and look after its archive of historic reels? What on earth does that statement actually mean?
So. This is absolutely terrible. If British films are left to 'the market' then films of the like of "Sex Lives of the Potato Men" result, because with only a profit motive to score money from, creative vision plays second fiddle to returns. Returns go for lowest common denominator shite, and shite is what you get. Obviously that's a vast generalisation but look at the stunning roster of films that the UKFC has invested in.
In that list are wonderful, *wonderful* films that say so much about the British sensibility, and which have won many awards. My absolute favourite, I have to say, although it's harrowing bloody watching is Mike Leigh's finest film in years, "Vera Drake". Also another great, idiosyncratic film, "The Last King of Scotland" but that's just to pick out two from the list.
This keys in to a bizarre conversation I had with two friends who I respect hugely, whilst we were all pissed, who stated categorically that we (the British) do not make good films, in comparison to say, the French, and therefore we should stop funding them. I could not believe what I was hearing and I must admit, I think I did some short term damage to my relationship with one of my friends, which was obviously horrible, but Good God, to suggest that "Vera Drake" is nothing less than a work of art? That I am proud my taxes went in to funding, to make a piece of accessible work that can be watched by millions... and to lose the opportunity to help support the next generation of Mike Leighs, of great actors, lighting crew, script writers, editors... to support and celebrate the idiosyncratic and rather wonderful little nation we live in?
No. Just No. NO! It's too much. It's appalling.
Also I just want to point out that a) we only see a few French films over here and frankly, some of them are a little hyped by the middle classes (who like a nice bit of exclusive arts that the low rent don't really understand - tell me I'm wrong, please do), so I'm sure there's an awful lot of French market only cobblers made also and b) French films receive *gigantic* subsidy from the French govt. And rightly so, for the same reasons as outlined above.
Getting back to the "No" point. Please draw a line in the sand here, with me and everyone else. Remember, this is not about saving money. this closure is not inevitable because we owe so much. The UKFC costs a pittance to run, and brings back enormous financial and cultural benefits. It's about something fundamentally screwed up in Jeremy Hunt's vision of what the arts in the UK should be like. There is, as with all things, a petition to sign. Please do it now if you haven't already, although I suspect in that ridiculous way. the only thing the govt will take notice of is a Facebook group if it gets 20k members in 3 days.
So there's one of the latest outrages for you. I'll keep reporting them as they come in. Jeremy hunt does seem to have an appropriate name.