Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?

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

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+1 # RE: Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?Jim Barratt 2010-10-06 19:36
Spot on, Laurence. While the government is committed to maintaining the film tax credit and lottery funding for film, it's not clear how much of the latter (if any) will continue to go into distribution and exhibition.

If the Arts Council becomes lottery distributor for film, will it have the appetite and aptitude for continuing, or further developing, P&A support schemes? ACE is obviously on familiar ground supporting mixed arts venues, but not all independent cinemas operate from arts centres.

Plus there's a big question mark over the grant-in-aid (GIA) money doled out by UKFC- which includes funding for BFFS and the ICO. I suspect the BFI's annual slice of GIA (£16m) will be cut, and we'll see an end to the work carried out by UKFC's Research and Stats Unit (also paid for via GIA).

So while lottery funding may well increase for film (by £3m annually, according to the Secretary of State), film culture is likely to face a net loss of tens of millions per annum once GIA is slashed. Couple that with the loss of RDAs and the inevitable shrinkage of RSAs, and the future of publicly funded cultural exhibition- including festivals- and specialised film distribution looks very bleak.
+1 # RE: Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?Nic Wistreich 2010-10-06 20:37
I'll second those thoughts and comments. And if the BFI are already responsible for a major film festival and major film magazine - will there be a conflict of interest for them to fund smaller (yet technically competing) festivals and publications?

That said there was no one from either org at this year or last year's Open Video Conferences (write up to follow asap!) so it could also be argued they've never taken their role in this area seriously, to improve discussions between with content creators and the tech communities. Whoever takes on the mantle needs to engage seriously with the issues, questions and needs of a digital distribution strategy that supports independent creators.

(updated for typos 6-10-10)
0 # RE: Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?Laurence Boyce 2010-10-07 10:03
It's also been pointed out to me the lack of discussion about film education which is - of course - important to excite a new generation of people about film culture.

I must admit that I am slightly more optimistic about the role of education. Education is seen as 'a good thing' because it's, well, educational and is usually more protected and promoted with the likes of organisations such as Film Education.

But yes, the fact that it's also not mentioned is another worry.

I would welcome any comments from those invovled in film education about whether I am right or wrong on my views and how you view it affecting film education...
+2 # RE: Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?Jim Barratt 2010-10-07 10:53
You probably want to hear from others (!), but I see no reason to be especially optimistic about the prospects for film education.

Looking down the list of funders for film education activity and there are big question marks over all their budgets (sy10.ukfilmcouncil.ry.com/18.4.asp).

Furthermore, of the 355 moving image education providers identified by UKFC (in a piece of research I conducted for them), many derive income from public sources under threat (including local authorities), charities etc. (sy10.ukfilmcouncil.ry.com/18.5.asp)

A sizeable proportion of these providers are small-scale production companies who operate a social enterprise business model, tailoring their offer to secure public contracts, grants etc. and to make a positive contribution locally. Any reduction in public funds will have a potentially disastrous impact on these companies' cash flow, their ability to build their businesses and pursue the creative projects they wish to.
0 # RE: Exhibition and Distribution: dirty words?Laurence Boyce 2010-10-12 07:30
It's true that many organisations flourish without funding, Kino London being an excellent example amongst many others.

I suppose that one of my problems is not necessarily the funding issue - as you point out, funding has always been difficult to come by and people in exhibition and distribution have always managed to find other ways. Though, I think that the little money on offer has proved important to some and helped organisations that would otherwise struggle

However my biggest concern is the fact that exhibition and distribution has not been mentioned in this debate at all, as if it's not important or even worthy. It's such a vital part of the UK Film Industry and I think that ignoring them is perilous and we really need to have more debate. As such would welcome lots more comments!
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