Oscar encouraging to a Film4 under fire

'Slumdog' brings Channel 4's movie arm 10 of 12 noms

LONDON -- All those Oscar noms raining down on "Slumdog Millionaire" couldn't have arrived at a more fortuitous moment for Film4, the embattled moviemaking unit of U.K. pubcaster Channel 4.

Film4 may be under attack in Great Britain, but movies in which it had a hand have received a warm reception this awards season.

The biggest fanfare has greeted Danny Boyle's "Slumdog," a project based on the novel "Q&A," which was originally optioned and developed by Film4 and subsequently co-financed with Celador. (When Warners decided not to release the film stateside following the shuttering of Warner Independent, Fox Searchlight stepped up and became its U.S. distributor.)

Boyle's film accounted for 10 of Film4's 12 Oscar noms, including best film and best director. "Slumdog" this month collected four Golden Globes, including best drama; reached No. 1 at the U.K. boxoffice; and garnered 20 noms for the Orange British Academy Film Awards. Additionally, the British outfit has a stake in two of the original screenplay nominations -- Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky" and Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges."

Tessa Ross, the unit's chief and Channel 4 head of drama, has enjoyed a number of shout-outs from grateful talent, all keen to acknowledge her backing.

"Tessa is a brilliant, brilliant enabler and producer," Leigh said Thursday. "She is doing a fantastic job and she is very much to be cherished."

The frequently quoted Ross is determined to enforce her long-held public opinion that filmmaking and program creation is all about the talent.

But if "Slumdog" producer Christian Colson has the opportunity to invoke her name once again at the Oscars, it's more than just a matter of flattery: It could help her in her steely determination to protect the film unit.

Channel 4, which until now has relied solely on advertising revenue, recently told the government it is facing a $230 million per year funding gap that will have to be met by public support. Its film unit has an annual budget of $15 million to fuel its involvement in movies and to help give talent at the channel a chance at the big screen.

Awards glory will help stave off any ax falling for the next few months at a part of Channel 4 that some observers regard as "noncore."

Seizing her moment in the Oscar limelight to state her case, Ross said, "At a time when the future of public service broadcasting -- and therefore Film4's own future -- is being debated as never before, it is wonderful to see films that would not exist without Film4's continual support garner global recognition."

Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.
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