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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Fears for access to 'quality cinema'

By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Cuts at the British Film Institute (BFI) could mean reduced access to "quality cinema" across the UK, a film body has warned.

The British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) has warned that a "decline in commitment" to showing arthouse cinema could force the closure of smaller independent cinemas and some of the 250 to 300 film societies around the UK.

Multiplex audience
Multiplexes focus on mainstream cinema
The BFI, whose main role is educating the public about film and TV, is planning to close its programme unit, which supplies support to regional film venues for the screening of arthouse movies.

The unit, which also helps arrange distribution of films, will have its duties redistributed to the Film Council, the BFI's parent body.

'Implications'

"Our concern is that this is a continuing decline in the commitment to exhibition," said David Phillips, director of the BFFS.

Multiplexes make their money on the drinks, sweets and popcorn sold, not on the films
David Phillips, BFFS
Tony Whitehead, cinema programmer at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff said: "It's not a disaster for larger venues but for smaller venues the implications are much more serious.

"It's one less service the BFI is providing to the UK regions. Much of their activity is focused on London and the National Film Theatre.

"They are becoming the English Film Institute or even the London Film Institute."

Mr Phillips said 90% of access to cultural cinema outside metropolitan areas was provided by film societies, independent cinema and smaller arts centres.

'Real commitment'

"If the BFI is not responsible for exhibition, who is? Is it the Film Council?

"There needs to be a real commitment to access to quality cinema."

The Film Council, which funds the BFI, recently announced a 1m fund to give cinema-goers access to a much broader selection of UK and international feature films via independent cinemas.

Jim Hamilton, head of the National Film Theatre at the BFI, denied that the closure of the programme unit would have an impact on access.

"Distribution and exhibition strategies will be handled by the Film Council," he insisted.

He said that although some people from the programme unit would lose their jobs, the changes would have "no impact at all" on independent cinemas or film societies.

But Mr Phillips warned against paying multiplexes to show art house cinema.

"For cultural cinema you have an audience of a particular type who goes to an arthouse venue.

"They do not go to multiplexes.

Money

"The multiplexes' target audience is the 16 to 28 year olds, the ones who spend their money on concessions.

"Multiplexes make their money on the drinks, sweets and popcorn sold, not on the films.

"They will only show cultural films for as long as they are paid to do it."

The BFFS, which receives 100,000 a year from the Film Council, said it had not been told of its coming budget for the next 12 months.

"The financial year for us started on Tuesday. Right now, I don't know if I'm going to have to sack my staff," said Mr Phillips.




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