U.K. Film Council, BFI plan merger

Film minister Sion Simon announces plan

LONDON -- Cost-cutting plans driven by the U.K. government will see the film-financing and training body the Film Council merged with film heritage organization the British Film Institute, creating a single body aimed at supporting the industry, film minister Sion Simon said Thursday.

The move, which has the support of U.K. Film Council chairman Tim Bevan and BFI chairman Greg Dyke, will maintain the remits of both bodies but will cut costs and overlaps in such areas as back office and administration.

The two organizations will work with the government over the next few months to work out a blueprint for the merged body.

The move comes as the cash-strapped U.K. government is running a fine-toothed comb through spending on its public bodies in a bid to cut mounting costs in the face of heavy government debt.

The merged BFI/Film Council would be "a single streamlined body that represents the whole of the film sector," which film minister Simon said "would offer a better service for film makers and film lovers."

Simon said that an organization with a cultural and economic remit would mean that support for the film industry was better coordinated, adding that it would "spend more of its money on film and services and less on infrastructure."

The Film Council, launched in 2000 on the back of such commercial and critical successes as "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Trainspotting" and "Secrets and Lies," has backed over 900 films, shorts and features including "Bend It Like Beckham," "The Constant Gardener" and "Gosford Park."

It also invests in training, education and regional film festivals. U.K. films added £4.3 billion ($7.09) to the U.K. economy, taking 15% of last year's global boxoffice, according to culture department data.

The British Film Institute, set up in 1933, looks after the London Southbank arts center as well as the London Film Festival.

Bevan, co-chairman of U.K. hits-factory Working Title said the move made sense for both organizations.

"The U.K. Film Council is a success story, but the truth is that when we were set up in 2000 a kind of artificial separation occurred -- on the one hand the UKFC, which supports film and the film industry; on the other the BFI, which celebrates film culture and cares for our film heritage. And in my opinion it can't be right for them to remain disconnected," he said.

"We know that the climate for public funding is going to get much tougher, and it's therefore sensible that we ask ourselves why there are two publicly funded film organizations in the U.K. We need to look at the scope for savings across the board, to push as much money as we can into new film activity."

The BFI's Dyke added that the move was an "opportunity to build."