Film4 Head on U.K.'s Evolving Film Scene and Avenging Elusive Filmmakers

Charlie Gray
Daniel Battsek

"'What do you mean, you want two weeks off?' I have to get my head around that because in the States, they don't believe in vacations," industry vet Daniel Battsek tells THR.

After nearly 12 years in the U.S., most recently as president of the Cohen Media Group, well-respected industry veteran Daniel Battsek returned to London in late 2016 to take the reins at Film4, stepping into the barely worn shoes of David Kosse (who had been in the role for only a year before leaving to head up STX International).

Battsek’s debut with the company at Cannes (although certainly not his first) is a busy one, with Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here in competition, How to Talk to Girls at Parties getting a special screening and the curious I Am Not a Witch dropping into the Directors’ Fortnight.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from the Film4 offices in London, Battsek, 59, discussed getting his revenge on those filmmakers he tried — and failed — to snare before, coming to terms with Brits actually having holidays (“What do you mean, you want two weeks off?”) and relocating home just in time to see his beloved Chelsea win the Premier League, although he says he tries to downplay the fact that his presence was a "significant factor in their success."

When will we start to see the first Film4 projects with the Battsek stamp on them?

Hopefully within the next 12 months or so. I don't know if you will see them on the cinema screen, but hopefully you will see them going into production. There's material that I've either acquired or that is a part of my taste palate. But these things take a bit of time. I'm not trying to rush stuff through just so I can say, "Hey, look, here's one of mine."

Are there any films you're particularly excited about?

One never wants one of their children to be brighter or more beautiful than others. Everything has merit and is exciting. But I'm always excited to be working with filmmakers that I've either worked with before or desperately wanted to work with before. I desperately wanted to do [Martin McDonagh's] In Bruges way back when, but I didn't manage to. I feel like I've come in from the other side in order to do [McDonagh’s] Three Billboards. I was a huge fan of Sebastian Lelio's Gloria. I desperately tried to buy that and didn't manage to. So I'm very excited about [Lelio's Rachel McAdams starrer] Disobedience. I spent an entire Berlin trying unsuccessfully to acquire [director Andrew Haigh's] 45 Years. I feel very grateful that who should pop up on the schedule but Andrew Haigh.

Any others you tried to get?

There's hardly a filmmaker that I haven't at one point or another tried to get my foot in the door with. My plan is to get my revenge on all of them.

Being the head of Film4 seems like the best job in the British film industry. You can be far more daring than, say, BBC Films or the BFI when it comes to helping greenlight projects, right?

I think so. That's what really appealed to me. I want to have the freedom to make someone's first movie and to be there for Steve McQueen's new movie, Lenny Abrahamson's new movie, Bart Layton or any of those filmmakers that I have a huge amount of time and respect for.

What has changed in the U.K. film industry in the time you've been away?

I think there's a lot more confidence here. You never really know when you talk of the British film industry itself as an entity. It always puts out this sort of slight inferiority complex. But when you break it down to the individual producers, directors, writers and actors, and you think of the influence that they have now compared to 10 or so years ago, it's so significant in every form.

Are there any Americanisms that you have picked up that you're now having to reconsider?

No, I think the only difference that I'm aware of here is that people take vacations. "What do you mean, you want two weeks off?" I have to get my head around that because in the States, they don't believe in vacations. They believe in as many four-day weekends as you can possibly celebrate for everything: Memorial Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King weekend, Veterans' weekend, Presidents' weekend. They have plenty of those. We don't have nearly enough of those.

Any downsides to relocating?

I try not to make it too obvious that returning to my season ticket at [Chelsea stadium] Stamford Bridge was a significant factor in their success this year. I try to downplay that, but no one believes me.