The Film Policy Review Panel, chaired by Lord Smith, finally reported today.
It’s impossible in a blog post to give a balanced assessment of every one of the Panel’s 56 recommendations, so what follows is a selection of first impressions.
This is a companion piece to a guest post on BOP Consulting’s blog, published here.
In so doing it's apparent that the latest Review builds on a great deal of what has gone before. As far as I can see, fewer than a dozen of the Panel’s recommendations lack any antecedent. Leaving aside the presentational shift placing audiences at the heart of film policy, this is very much an evolution and not a revolution in approach.
2. Community cinema (big screen programming run by volunteers for the local community not profit) has long been under-valued by public film bodies, despite the obvious potential for audience development at a local level. So it’s gratifying to see the Panel advocating financial support for ‘clusters of local cinemas and film societies across the Nations and Regions of the UK’ (recommendation 3) and ‘local film clubs and societies in areas of rural deprivation or isolation’ (recommendation 5).
3. Film education bodies proliferated under the UK Film Council, so their consolidation (recommendation 7) is something of a reversal. But more important than who delivers support on the ground is the question of the Department for Education’s ongoing commitment to film education in England, and the status of moving image learning within the National Curriculum. The Panel worries DfE support might be in jeopardy, yet without it there really is little future for ‘a new unified offer for film education’.
4. The Panel has not totally resisted the temptations of gimmickry and faddism. Of the former, the idea of a British film brand makes sense when coordinating overseas sales, but on home turf a ‘British film week’ (recommendation 2) could backfire if the flow of branded product is anything less than first class. And the idea that a strategy is needed to set out how film can ‘enhance social cohesion’ (recommendation 4) is unconvincing without more concrete evidence of need and benefit.
5. There’s little to quibble over in the Panel’s recommendations for development, production and distribution funding. Re-aligning the interests of producers and distributors through joint ventures, continuation of the Vision Awards for development, recycling recoupment of public funding for future filmmaking by successful producers, and rewarding key creatives with a recoupment share all seem sensible measures in pursuit of quality and to help build longer-term capacity in the independent sector.
6. Less convincing is the Panel’s prescription for reversing the ‘long history of failure to connect policies for the film and television sectors.’ The Panel proposes establishing Memoranda of Understanding with all the major broadcasters, but the only precedent, a memorandum signed by UKFC and BBC in 2006, was largely unsuccessful. And that’s despite the BBC’s sympathy for the cause, unlike BSkyB whose support for independent British film is risible.
In fairness the Panel does acknowledge this, recommending ‘legislative solutions’ as a backstop (recommendation 32), and we can only hope the threat is taken seriously. (The Panel’s proposed review of the UK film acquisitions market is long-overdue [recommendation 33], and the findings could prove critical during MOU negotiations).
7. In total the Panel recommends development of no fewer than six new strategies (UK-Wide film network; film and social cohesion; international sales; co-production; talent in the regions; and private investment strategies), alongside reworking several already in existence.
That’s an awful lot of work for the BFI and its partners, and some careful scheduling will be required. Sensibly the Panel has not prescribed an action plan (unlike the 1998 Film Policy Review Group, whose plan slipped almost immediately). Nonetheless, some sense of the relative priority of the Panel’s proposals would have been helpful.
8. The Panel deserves credit for considering the role of hard evidence in policymaking and in assessing the performance of public film bodies. The section on ‘Research and Knowledge’, built on a recommendation (number 53) to strengthen the BFI’s research function with an expanded remit and, importantly, sufficient resources, is very welcome (as any regular reader of this blog will appreciate).
The report calls for a 'radically new approach [...] to collecting and making available information, particularly in the wake of the Government's commitment to open data'. Quite right. Meanwhile, the proposal to review film policy and the BFI’s performance every three years is also welcome (recommendation 56). Regular independent review should help keep the policy cycle fresh and guard against complacency.
I’ve not touched on any of the recommendations around exhibition, skills, exports or film heritage, but there are plenty of good ideas to back up the Panel’s aspirations in these areas. Overall, I think the report deserves our close attention and look forward to the Government’s response.
Happy New Year, by the way.