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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
The great British film gamble

By Darren Waters
BBC News Online

In 1997 when three firms were given almost 100m in lottery money to try and re-vitalise British film, one industry figure said the money might as well be set alight.

Six years later and many in the industry feel that cynicism has now proved justified.

Strictly Sinatra
Strictly Sinatra sank without a trace

DNA Films, Pathe and The Film Consortium were the three firms chosen out of 37 applicants to receive 95.67m from the Arts Council.

The three franchises were expected to produce more than 90 British films in the six-year period, using the lottery money to fund up to 20% of the cost of a film.

In fact, the three companies produced about 44 films, less than half the expected number, and of those produced few have lit up the box office and most were ignominious flops.

But when the scheme was launched in Cannes in May 1997 it was done with bullish optimism.

Charles Denton, chairman of the then Arts Council's film advisory panel, said the franchises offered a "real prospect of bringing a wide variety of high quality films to audiences in the UK and around the world".

It was very clear early on that they were not working
Nick James, Sight and Sound

The aim, the council said in a statement, was to "foster an increase in the production of British films which are of a high creative quality and have good commercial prospects".

Nick James, of film magazine Sight and Sound, said: "The real story for me has always been the difference between the hype of the franchises and the reality - I am not so worried about the waste of money argument.

"It was a misguided strategy and there was an inability to carry it out."

James said there was never any appetite in the British public to see 100 British movies in six years.

Lottery flops
Jommy Grimbe (Pathe)
The Claim (Pathe)
Final Curtain (DNA)
Beautiful Creatures (DNA)
Janice Beard (Film Consortium)
Gabriel and Me (Film Consortium)

"Neither commercially or critically have they worked."

Francois Ivernel, head of Pathe films, said: "Like everybody else we have discovered the time it takes to put a slate of films into production."

Mr Ivernel, whose firm has made about 17 films, said in terms of production "six years is a very short period of time".

He said Pathe was "very grateful" that it was given the chance to be one of the franchise holders.

No-one from DNA or The Film Consortium was available for comment.

An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband was an early, rare hit

"Pathe made quite a few films quickly which were flops," said Nick James.

In fact, many observers felt that time should have been called on the franchises after three years when the contracts were up for review.

But at that stage the Film Council had been born, taking over all responsibility for film development, and the reviews were kept confidential.

At that stage, said James, the damage had been done.

"It was very clear early on that they were not working. They were never given much time because critics were putting the boot in fairly quickly."

Distributors now need to... have their arms twisted and pinned against the wall with a machine gun pointed at them before they will consider distributing a British film
Nick James, Sight and Sound

Mr Ivernel admitted that Pathe should not have made some of the films, but was "right to try".

"Only after the fact can we say we should not have made these films. It is a learning curve.

James said the last six years of the film franchises have been "disastrous in terms of morale".

"They raised massive expectations for a British film revival but the quality of the films made in the first two years was so disastrously poor that it has had a deleterious effect on any British film since.

Steve Coogan in The Parole Officer
The Parole Officer was a modest hit

"Distributors now need to be wooed and pursued, have their arms twisted and pinned against the wall with a machine gun pointed at them before they will consider distributing a British film."

But there have been highlights. Some of the best films produced by the franchises were released towards the end of the six-year period.

"There is no question that there is a dozen, maybe 15, films of quality made over the course of six years," said James.

Highlights include Lynne Ramsay's Ratcather and Michael Winterbottom's In This World, winner of the 2003 Golden Bear award at the Berlin film festival.

Latest figures from the Film Council show that more than 25m of the money remains unspent but the three firms want more time to spend the funds.

"If one of the three turn out to be permanent production and distribution hoses with clout then it is not a terrible legacy," said James, adding: "But it is not what was talked about."

Mr Ivernel said Pathe was prepared for life after the lottery.

"We now getting some of the rewards of this policy by having a stronger slate of films and talent we are using.

"We will continue to produce three to four films a year."




SEE ALSO:
Three years of the Film Council
28 Mar 03  |  Entertainment
Boost for women film-makers
07 May 03  |  Entertainment
UK film firms fail targets
15 May 03  |  Entertainment



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