BFI to tackle diversity in new £500m five-year plan

BFI2022 to increase support for regional and grass-roots film-making; responds to Brexit challenges; could support more TV, VR.

BFI to tackle diversity in new £500m five-year plan

The BFI has unveiled its next five-year strategic plan for UK film.

BFI2022 follows up from the current five-year plan Film Forever, which concludes in March 2017, and will prioritise three drives: building audiences, learning and skills, and developing talent with an emphasis on diversity.

The UK’s lead body for films is set to invest close to £500m from 2017-2022 (which is a similar total to its previous five-year plan), made up of government grant-in-aid, BFI earned income and National Lottery funding.

The BFI2022 financial plan calls for £221.2m of the total £488.8m investment to come from government funding, BFI income generation, sponsorship and philanthropy, and the rest from Lottery funding.

Of the total, the biggest chunk (£179.5m) across the five-year strategy will go to the BFI cultural programme, with a further £30m earmarked for education (of which £24m will go to Into Film), £28.5m for skills, £104.5m in support for film-makers (of which £79.5m is set aside for the production fund) and £59.3m towards audience development and film heritage.

DIVERSITY & FUNDING

BFI 2022 has a particular focus on improving diversity in the UK industry and “will work toward a goal that all UK film productions voluntarily adopt the BFI diversity standards”.

Launched during Film Forever, and previously known as the three-ticks, the diversity standards currently only apply to BFI Lottery-funded projects.

“The BFI is determined to lead from the front,” said BFI CEO Amanda Nevill. “We’re committed to diversity and we’ve been encouraged by the response we’ve had from the industry. We can optimistically imagine a scenario whereby the conditions are right and there is enough diversity across the industry for it to be easy for all productions to adopt these standards. The BFI’s role is to work on those conditions.”

“The second part of our role is to work with all active producers to explain to them how the diversity standards work and show that they are not insurmountable barriers.”

In a bid to empower regional film-making across the UK, BFI2022 will see 25 percent of all BFI production funding devolved to decision-makers based outside of London by 2022.

The BFI Film Fund will expand its remit for the first time to extend support across different platforms, funding filmmaking not necessarily destined for a traditonal theatrical release. Feature-length narrative films will remain core to the BFI’s production funding but the new approach could include episodic television, virtual reality, and films destined for other platforms.

Non-theatrical works

“We want to be less restrictive in the type of work we can support,” said BFI Film Fund head Ben Roberts. “At Screen’s Film Summit last week, there was a statistic which suggested that we were approaching 900 films to be released in cinemas this year and given the amount of work we do supporting early-career film-makers, it’s not right for us to assume necessarily that what all of those films are going to need – or get – is breathing space in cinemas.

“We want them to feel that they can be as creative as possible without being judged by how long they stay on cinema screens,” he continued.

“We’re not diving down a rabbit hole,” added Roberts. “The most down to earth change is that we might fund something where a cinema release is not its be-all-and-end-all. We get frustrated not being able to respond to a brilliant idea that still has a narrative shape to it and might actually work better for an audience not looking for that in cinemas.”

BFI2022 will launch a fast, full-financing model for low-budget and debut films under £1m, while offering greater support for independent distributors. The latter initiative will include a move to non-recoupable grants to encourage UK distributors to continue taking risks on low-budget features and debut film-makers.

“The combination of a cautious UK distribution sector and declining values from the international presales market is placing greater pressure on our funds, particularly in the area of supporting new filmmakers, experimental and documentary film, and ambitious, visionary cinema such as High-Rise, Under The Skin and American Honey,” the BFI outlined in its strategy document.

“In the first year of this strategy, we will work closely with PACT, UKCA and the FDA on a deeper investigation into the health of British independent film so that we can contribute towards improving conditions for its long-term future. We will continue to promote our Locked Box initiatives across development and production, which have already enabled many producers to make investment decisions with creative autonomy.”

Regional funds

By 2022, the BFI hopes to complete the establishment of regional production funds – “a small number, probably one or two,” said Nevill – which will sit within emerging creative clusters already developing film or television.

“We are borrowing the fact that ERDFs [European Regional Development Funds] have been very successful although our money will be softer, providing you use the money to help build film-making capacity in that region,” said Nevill.

They will also appoint new regional BFI Network talent executives based in key cultural venues through the BFI Film Audience Network. “Storytelling will always be key,” said Nevill. “We increasingly see ourselves as the R&D for the British film industry.”

The BFI will also prioritise the need for additional shooting space in the UK.

“A number of new studio spaces are in development around the UK, and the BFI’s Creative Clusters Challenge fund will support the longer-term development of a number of internationally recognised creative screen clusters in addition to London to ensure future capacity for new international film and television production.”

“We have earmarked £5.5m for our National Cluster Growth Fund across skills and talent to build capacity outside London.”

However, Creative England, which has received significant public backing to date, will have a “refocused” role for the BFI going forward:

“BFI2022 sees a refocused role for Creative England which will build on its imaginative work in supporting enterprise in SMEs. They will continue to deliver ifeatures and we are working closely with them on a review of production services.”

AUDIENCES, LEARNING & SKILLS

As part of BFI2022, in a bid to boost plateauing cinema admissions across the UK and to boost diversity, more autonomy will be passed to the Film Audience Network, which currently includes venues such as Manchester’s HOME, Bristol’s Watershed and Queens Film Theatre in Belfast. The FAN Network will see its overall budget increased by 20 percent and will also house the new Network talent executives.

“The FAN network is a sleeping giant and we’re only now starting to understand their real potential,” said Nevill. “There’s a real sense at the local level of the importance that the creative industries can have. In this new world where more power is going out to the LEPs [local enterprise partners], we as the BFI have to get in there and make sure local policies and local funding plans include film and the moving image.”

“We need more people watching more British and independent film,” she added. “Between them, the FAN hubs now have over 1,000 collaborative exhibition partners working together on programmes.”

A ninth FAN hub will be added in the Birmingham region, according to Nevill. In the absence of a significant film venue such as Manchester’s HOME, the BFI will work with Flatpack, an activity-based film organisation in Birmingham, to develop the new hub.

The new five-year plan will seek to significantly grow the engagement of 16-30 year olds with UK independent and arthouse film across all BFI activities by 2022.

As part of the drive, the BFI will launch a searchable, interactive database for British feature films, complete with gender data, and will create new 35mm film prints of 100 classic films such as Powell & Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947), FW Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974).

The Red Shoes

BFI 2022 will also see the launch of a new 10-year plan with skills body Creative Skillset.

“Skills and diversity are part and parcel of the same issue, if we’re going to have a more diverse industry that looks more like the country,” said BFI chair Josh Berger. “The issue is about opportunity. It’s about giving people the opportunity of advancement.”

BFI 2022 will look to develop several other initiatives established under Film Forever. These include a commitment to grow Into Film, which set up active film clubs in 10,000 schools, including developing an evidence-based manifesto to support the educational and cultural value of film; the BFI Film Academy, which will continue to receive investment from the Department of Education; and VOD platform BFI Player.

Growing audiences was a key component of Film Forever and BFI2022 looks to build upon that by devolving more power and responsibility for audience and talent development and funding to the FAN hubs.

INTERNATIONAL & BREXIT

There will be more emphasis on capitalising on the international opportunities for UK film, including a commitment to increase in-house expertise. This is seen as crucial as the UK prepares for negotiations to exit the European Union.

In conjunction with the British Film Commission, the BFI will undertake a review of production services and production infrastructure to ensure the UK remains a top film-making destination.

The BFI’s international fund is also set to receive a boost “to better support the anticipated requirements of a post-referendum world”.

“One of the things that the BFI has done in the last five years is bring in a well-thought-through international strategy – beyond the US, to consider who the other territories are that we should be getting into bed with,” said Nevill.

“In the context of Brexit, film is a global business, thank god, and we’ve already started to make serious strides there. Brexit just re-emphasised the need to put more energy into that.”

“The BFI has been a leading member of EFADs [European Film Agency Directors],” she continued. “We meet as a collegiate band and it’s absolutely led by the British, the French, the Germans and the Belgians. Collectively, we have a full-time person in Brussels.

“We have never been out of step with EFADs, even in that great state-aid debacle that happened a few years ago, so I know that what we will want for Brexit will be exactly the same as what my counterparts in the other film agencies want. I also know that it’s highly unlikely to be what the Commission will want [regarding the ongoing dIgital single market debate]. Our friendships with those other directors are going to be really critical during Brexit.”

Anonymous | 05-Dec-2016 10:54 AM

The NETWORK "partnership" between the BFI and National Screen Agencies was always doomed to failure as the BFI refused to devolve any of its production funding to the NETWORK or at the very least embed a suitably devolved production executive with the First Feature budget & decision making powers to work closely with the various development execs. Rather that BFI saw the NETWORK as having a "fluffing" function - get it to do all the intensive, resource/time heavy talent development work and then hand the filmmakers (and the relationship) over to the BFI execs in London when their feature projects were ready for packaging. The producers on many of these projects are tearing their hair out as those BFI execs then come with their own notes/thoughts about how the project should be developed so the makers find themselves in a Kafkaesque loop.

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Anonymous | 07-Dec-2016 6:08 PM

Following on from above observations, a bit of digging tells you a few other things. Of their first time ‘winners’ at the BIFAs – according to the BFI website The Greasy Strangler just got completion funding, so they didn’t really develop or back the talent so much as jump in late when all the hard work had already been done. And Notes on Blindness, again they didn’t develop the talent – who had to get their pilot short for the film into Sundance first all by themselves. Hardly ‘breaking’ or ‘backing’ the talent properly in either case. Adult Life Skills appears to have been backed from the very beginning by Creative England. And look at the Douglas Hickox Debut award nominations – BFI had a production funding hand in one of them (Notes), Creative England was in on the same film but also development and production funded Adult Life Skills (as well as the BIFA/BAFTA nominated proof of concept Emotional Fusebox), while the other three nominees all worked outside the UK ‘system’. With the big funds available to BFI, and the much more limited funds Creative England appear to have had to play with over a limited period of time, I reckon the latter comes out of that snapshot with the greater credit – but perhaps the praise should go to the backers of Under the Shadow, the Doha Film Institute, for being the biggest winners in the first timer sphere. Or maybe, really, to Prevenge and My Feral Heart for being successful while truly outside the ‘system’? What it does seem to say is that BFI is at best tentative when it comes to backing the newer talent coming through. And that's a worry if they're taking funds back inhouse.

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