Laurence Boyce, regular Netribution contributor and former director of GLIMMER: The Hull International Short Film Festival, give his opinion on the worrying trend to ignore exhibition and distribution in the UKFC debate.
(EDIT: Since being published, this article has also appeared on the Encounters International Film Festival website at www.encounters-festival.org)
A recent letter to Sight And Sound from the British Federation of Film Societies pointed out a crucial omission in many of the discussions surrounding the demise of the UK Film Council. Whilst its importance in the production of UK films has been justifiably analysed, it’s significance in the exhibition and distribution within the UK cannot be understated. Either directly or through Regional Screen Agencies, the UKFC has part funded almost all of the film festivals in the UK from the likes of the London Film Festival to dozens of regional festivals bringing movies and events to local communities. The aforementioned British Federation of Film Societies has received UKFC funding for a decade to help bring cinema to rural areas and give people access to film that they otherwise may be denied. It’s P&A fund has helped small films increase the number of screens they’ve been able to book whilst magazines such as Little White Lies have received funding from the UKFC’s New Publications Fund. With support such as this in danger, there is a huge chance that – in the UK at least – audiences are going to be denied the opportunity to experience a wide ranging choice of films from the UK and beyond.Make no mistake about it: festivals, independent cinemas, film societies and eclectic film publications are crucial if film culture is going to thrive and survive in the UK. It’s all very well pouring money in making sure that there are lots of films made: but if there’s nowhere to show them and no-one writing about them, what the point? Yet, if you to follow the current debates about the UK Film Council and those who will take over its duties, you would be forgiven that festivals and independent cinemas just magically happen. Why is no-one mentioning exhibition and distribution in the debate at all?
This is not to say that the UKFC have got it right with their approaches to exhibition and distribution. Their festival strategy has seemed to be one of ‘Let’s get A-List stars over,’ rather than recognising the breadth and depth of programmes that UK festivals have to offer. The Digital Screen Network, a fund whereby cinemas got grants for digital projectors to show ‘arthouse fare’, seems to have resulted the major chains getting a new projector on the cheap so they can cram in an extra screening of the latest Disney picture. Yet, despite these problems, the UKFC still provided a place where people could go for advice and apply for funding (even if there wasn’t much funding available).
Like everyone the exhibition and distribution sector is prepared to take its share of cuts. Indeed, it has often survived hand to mouth and is used to weathering storms. But the current lack of any meaningful debate about the role and importance of distribution and exhibition in the UK Film Industry is troubling.
Netribution would welcome comments on the opinions expressed by Laurence, especially from anyone working in the exhibition and distribution sector.
Laurence Boyce is a film journalist and a former director of GLIMMER: The Hull International Short Film Festival, which received funding from the UKFC. He has also worked at the Leeds International Film Festival