Oscar to the rescue

Noms encourage a Film4 under fire

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 might 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 originally was optioned and developed by Film4 and subsequently co-financed with Celador. (When Warner Bros. decided not to release the film stateside after 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 picture and director. The British outfit also has a stake in two 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. "She is doing a fantastic job."

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

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

Channel 4, which 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 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 some regard as "noncore."

Georg Szalai in New York contributed to this report.
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