Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have signed up to speak in this debate, and I very much look forward to hearing their comments.
In introducing the topic this afternoon I will draw on my experience as a former head of the British Film Institute, and in particular my worry that in the 20 years since I left the BFI the issues that affect cinema policy have not changed significantly. I am struck, for instance, by the continuing split between those who view film as industry and those who see it as an art form, or culture, and there is the parallel question of whether cinema is truly an art form on a par with other performing arts such as music and theatre. A colleague at the BFI used to say that you could tell how the British ranked cinema as an art form by looking at the buildings on the South Bank. There are the glass palaces for the orchestras of the Southbank Centre, the new brutalism of the National Theatre—and the National Film Theatre, as it used to be called, hidden under Waterloo Bridge.
I will argue that cinema is both art and business. The price you pay for getting to make a piece of popular culture in the form of a feature film is that you have to do it within a huge industrial process with staff, equipment, marketing and the whole damn thing. When you visit American studios it is no surprise to discover that they are largely staffed not by creatives or even accountants—although there are plenty of those—but by lawyers, who mainly specialise in intellectual property. That is what is being created, and why in many ways the case of cinema is paradigmatically also the case of the creative industries more generally.
How do we set out to achieve a vibrant cinema culture in the country? My starting position is that the Government must provide political leadership at the highest level and that they must sponsor and fund properly an effective and trusted arm’s-length body that must have sufficient resources to achieve what it feels are the necessary actions to achieve its cultural, creative and economic remits, either directly or in partnership with others. Therefore the key question for the Government to answer today is whether what we find on the ground is capable of delivering a cinema culture for the UK, and if not, what needs to be done to remedy that situation?
On the question of political leadership, responsibility for cinema comes under the DCMS. But is that the right place for a key sector of the creative industries, and one which, as I have said, is both art and industry? The film industry creates intellectual property, and many of the policy issues it faces relate to IP. For example, we are shortly due to debate a number of copyright statutory instruments, at least one of which, it is argued, materially affects this industry, although they come from BIS, not the DCMS. Higher education, apprenticeships and training report to different Ministers in BIS, the school curriculum is in the DfE, and export and other support services for the creative industries are funded and operate from BIS. The Treasury delivers over £1 billion of funding each year for the film industry through tax breaks, and it could do more if we could persuade it to look at reworking some of its enterprise allowances so as to work better for the risk-based industries, of which film is but one example. It is, therefore, a complex picture.
A good case could be made for responsibilities for film to be located in the Department for Education, in BIS, or even back to the Cabinet Office, where it originally started as the Office of Arts and Libraries. But at the last reshuffle there was no change. In truth, there is no “right place”. However, unless and until the DCMS gets more powers and responsibilities, I fear that these questions will continue to be raised. I ask the Minister to comment on this, although he may well respond that it is not a matter for him and that it is well above his pay grade. However, this is a question that we need some answers on at some point.
Given that we have leadership at the political level, our system of organising the various art forms has until recently been common ground between the parties, and is usually referred to as the arm’s-length principle. Under that, the department does not take the cultural decisions, which are delegated to the various sectoral bodies. My question is: does the arm’s-length body speak for and enjoy the confidence of those interested in the art form it champions, as well as those who work in every part of the industry?
We have some external guidance on this in the form of a report from former DCMS Secretary of State my noble friend Lord Smith—who unfortunately cannot be here today—who recently published a second report. I know that other noble Lords intend to refer to that, so I will not go through all the details. However, the sense that comes through on reading the report is, on the one hand, approval of the progress that has been made since the merger of the BFI with the UK Film Council, albeit on the other hand it is made clear that there is rather a lot more to do. As the report notes, a triennial review of the BFI will take place in 2014. When he comes to respond, can the Minister therefore give us some more detail about what will happen when that report takes place, at what point in the year it will happen, and what the main objectives will be?
As I left the BFI in 1997 I was arguing with the DCMS that there ought to be one lead organisation for film in the UK and that it should have a cultural, creative and economic remit. Like many people I disagreed with the way the present Government shut down the UK Film Council within weeks of taking office. However, I feel that having one body, independent of the Government, is the right way forward. I am therefore delighted that the BFI now occupies that role, with a mission to ensure that film is central to our cultural life, as it says,
“by supporting and nurturing the next generation of filmmakers and audiences”.
Surely, it is axiomatic that a successful film industry depends on a flourishing audience culture, and vice versa. Indeed, in this digital era, with the problems of physical distribution that bedevilled cinema in its first century all but evaporated, the two are more interdependent than ever before. Out of that combination ought to flow a vibrant cinema culture. So will the BFI be able to do what is required to achieve a cinema culture in the UK? I suppose that depends on its plans, the partnerships it can build and the willingness of the Government to support them financially.
In very broad terms, what we want is a chance for everyone to access a wide range of cinemas and types of film from all round the world, including films from different periods of film history. We want to be able to see these films in comfortable surroundings as part of a mix of contemporary popular films, and we want similar access to DVDs and downloads. We want a successful British film industry, making films that appeal to a wide range of tastes and audiences, an education system that prepares our young people for jobs in that industry, and a properly organised and funded archive to retain this material for scholarship and study—dead easy.
The BFI has a five-year strategy for supporting UK film—Film Forever—which includes as core priorities expanding education and learning opportunities and boosting audience choice across the UK, supporting the future success of British film and unlocking our film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy. This seems to me to fit the aspirations I have sketched out, so the question is: is the money there to deliver it? There is the rub. Does the BFI have the funding? The strategy will work only if it is supported financially by the Government.
First there is the question of the current budget cuts. At a time when most other arts institutions have been asked to find cuts of 5%, which is in all honesty bad enough, the BFI has been asked to find a cut of 10% in 2015-16. This, of course, comes on top of funding reductions of 18% over the past two years. Although the BFI is a lottery distributor, it cannot spend funds on itself, so the lottery funds the BFI gives to the film industry for making films are not threatened. These budget cuts actually threaten not only the cultural work of the BFI, the very activity from which film-making artistic talents emerge, but also the capacity to preserve the nation’s film culture for the future.
In a recent editorial in the BFI’s excellent magazine, Sight and Sound, the editor, Nick James, explains that,
“it is the cultural side of the BFI—the National Film Archive, the South Bank film and events programme, the London Film Festival, the BFI Reuben Library, film education, film distribution, publishing which has effectively had its funding squeezed year by year for the whole of this century”.
“What these cuts threaten is not only the cultural basis from which filmmaking artistic talents emerge, but also the preservation of the nation’s cultural memory on film … What sticks in our craw at Sight & Sound is the feeling that, for the British media, film never quite makes the grade as an art form and therefore it’s an easy mark for the government to target”.
So, once again, the feeling grows that we do not yet have the governance, the capacity, the funding or the commitment to create a cinema culture for the UK. Is this because film never quite makes the grade as an art form? Is it because we think of film, at heart, as an industrial process? Perhaps it is the combination which makes it too easy for the Government to pick on it as a soft option.
Does the Minister agree with my analysis and, if so, can he suggest ways forward for the Government, the BFI and the country which will remedy that situation? I look forward to the contributions from others more expert than I am in these matters.
My Lords, I am a working film-maker, a former trustee of both the BFI and the UK Film Council, and a trustee of multiple arts organisations recorded on the register.
I want to address just three points. Last year, the arts community greeted with howls of outrage Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s assertion that we must focus on culture’s “economic impact”. She said that,
“there is no doubt as to the real social and educational case for public investment. But that is never going to be the argument that wins the day”.
She has continued to insist on privileging an economic measure. This value-driven approach misunderstands both the multiple values of art and how the sector operates. The creative economy is a complex ecosystem where the most valuable flowerings may gestate in long and very unpredictable ways.
No number of focus groups or spreadsheets could predict the mainstream success of strip-teasing steelworkers in “The Full Monty”, women’s football in “Bend it Like Beckham” or, indeed, the plasticine chickens in “Chicken Run”. Art seeks not to replicate that which has sold well in the past but to break new ground. Even the most commercial films rely on having actors, directors and technicians who have learnt their craft and rejuvenate their creativity by making subsidised art movies or working in other artistic mediums.
Misunderstanding cultural values, which are crucial to any development of the economic strength of the cultural or entertainment industries, risks undermining the very thing that the Culture Secretary is hoping to promote. The current crop of successes that saw the UK film industry dominate this year’s awards circuit were, of course, commissioned before the coalition was in power. Films take a long time to conceive, to write, to fund, to make and to get to the public. We will have to wait another decade before we can truly say whether the current policy has made the sector risk-averse or has undermined the original and non-commercial sparks that brought the likes of Steve McQueen, Danny Boyle, Alfonso Cuarón and Clio Barnard to prominence.
Last year in this Chamber my noble friend Lord Clancarty questioned the Competition Commission ruling on the Cineworld/Picturehouse merger. Again, by failing to recognise the distinction between an art cinema and a mainstream multiplex, the Competition Commission jeopardised art cinemas in Aberdeen, Bury and Cambridge, despite audience-building and supporting British and specialist cinema being key tenets of the review of the noble Lord, Lord Smith. It was an absurd decision in which there were no winners. Will the Minister now undertake to sit down with the Competition Commission to seek a way that allows the commission to attach a cultural measure when deciding on competition issues in the cultural industries? I am asking not for the Cineworld decision to be overturned, or for an inappropriate representation to an independent body to be made, but for Her Majesty’s Government’s convening power to be used to engage all stakeholders in a process that would deliver cultural breadth and depth of provision of British and specialist cinema right across the UK.
The Cultural Learning Alliance is just one of dozens of organisations to express dismay that for the first time in more than 20 years no mention of film has been made in the new national curriculum. It states:
“This is a real blow, and one that will make it extremely difficult to ensure that young people have the literacy skills to succeed in a world dominated by these forms of communication and expression”.
I am the founder of a charity that pioneered the educational use of film for school-age children, and I am now a founding trustee of Into Film, a new organisation charged with delivering the BFI’s 5 to 19 education offer in schools. We have a community of 8,000 clubs and the 300,000 weekly members are shown to have better communication skills, improved literacy, both verbal and written, and better educational outcomes overall.
We are a nation whose identity is inextricably bound up with the commercial films we produce, from James Bond and “Gregory’s Girl” to “Kes” and “Oliver Twist”. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, does not demand that we consider the value of the commercial industry, which of course contributes £4.6 billion to GDP and provides more than 100,000 jobs; he presents us with a more difficult question about how we might support cinema culture. Implicit in the Question is that culture is different from commerce and that we must support it.
Film is a meeting place of drama, music, literature, technical skills and art. It provides a gateway to other cultural experiences. It is a route for young people to discuss almost any subject. It comes in multiple languages from all corners of the earth, offering a window into our ever-more globalised world. In short, it delivers cultural and knowledge capital, which is desperately needed by the young. Ninety-two per cent of teachers running clubs say that they see the educational benefits, 99% of teachers say that it improves communication skills and 78% of teachers say that it positively impacts on reading and writing. Film is an explosive tool in educating the young. Head teachers need the imprimatur and explicit support of the Department for Education confidently to put film at the centre of the curriculum. Teachers need to be taught to use it effectively and creatively as part of their training. The educational success of using film as a key component of education, with its ability to improve literacy, behaviour and critical thinking, needs formal recognition and protection into the future. Young people are the citizens, audience and film-makers of the future. Her Majesty’s Government handsomely support the creative economy. They need both in voice and in deed now to support the cultural economy. They are not separate but synonymous.
My Lords, it seems strange that a country such as Great Britain, which lays so much emphasis on the performing arts, has such a weak film culture, at least in comparison with America, France, Italy or even Russia. We have a rich tradition in theatre. I doubt whether there are many other countries that can boast an active repertory company in nearly every large town, so many outstanding actors and so many prominent live playwrights as well as the classic ones. Until recently, we were recognised as having the best television in the world. Of course, we have the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and half a dozen major opera companies. I am a personal supporter of Scottish Opera, which survived a major financial crisis recently but rose phoenix-like from the ashes to take its place as one of Britain’s most admired opera companies.
Foreigners from all over the world flock to Britain—not just to London—to experience our theatre, concerts, ballet and opera but they are unimpressed by our cinema. It seems that we, too, as a nation do not take cinema seriously enough. That is particularly distressing because historically we can boast a long list of very distinguished films. With Grierson and Jennings, we almost invented the modern documentary. We have the Ealing comedies from “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and “The Lavender Hill Mob” to “The Ladykillers”; the epics of Alexander Korda; and the classics of Powell and Pressburger, particularly “The Red Shoes” and “A Matter of Life and Death”. The works of Carol Reed and David Lean, including “The Third Man” and “Brief Encounter”, are regarded as masterpieces even in France. We have Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare adaptations and Oscar winners such as “Tom Jones”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Gandhi” and, most recently, “The King’s Speech”. Today we have our auteur directors, such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows and Terence Davies, who are greatly admired at film festivals on the continent.
At this year’s BAFTA and Oscar ceremonies, two films dominated, namely, “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity”. The first was made by the British black director, Steve McQueen. The other was made at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios, and was handled entirely by British film technicians and recognised by Hollywood producers as the best in the world. After the success of the Harry Potter films, Warner Bros built studios at Leavesden to take advantage of all this great British talent.
However, in spite of such an outstanding record, Britain still seems to be a country without any serious cinema culture and it is difficult to understand why. One of cinema’s characteristics, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is that it is a hybrid medium. It is an art form, entertainment and an industry. Some of the best and most famous films score highly in all three categories at once but different groups and countries put more emphasis on one of these categories over the other two and therefore value them differently. For example, the French see cinema primarily as an art form. They call it “le septième art”. To the Americans, it is primarily an industry, dominated by Hollywood. However, to the average member of the public, it is regarded as entertainment and I believe that the majority of British people, including politicians and civil servants, see cinema as no more than that. If that is true, perhaps it is not so surprising that we have such a weak cinema culture in Britain.
Another reason why British cinema seems to have made so little impression on us as well as the rest of the world is that so many of our high-profile films are closely associated with America. “Tom Jones”, for instance, was made by United Artists with American money. “The Third Man”, as just one example, had two American stars, Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, and many people did not appreciate that it was a totally British film.
In the same way, much of the world does not regard this year’s top movies, “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” as British. Even the most talked-about film of the moment, “Under the Skin”, showing now at a cinema near you, which tells the story of an alien woman preying on the people of Glasgow, has an American star, Scarlett Johansson, in the lead. Perhaps we are too dependent on the American market to be able to establish a truly British identity in all but the most modest film productions. Also, the difficulty with so many of these so-called modest films is that they can afford only limited publicity and consequently only limited distribution. An example of this is “The Selfish Giant” which I, as a member of BAFTA, voted the best British film of the year.
However, several government-supported bodies are trying and have been trying for several years, to improve British attitudes towards our nation’s cinema. The British Film Institute, in particular, is committed to encouraging,
“the public to enjoy and appreciate the full range of our film heritage and to use it for creative inspiration and learning”.
Some £6.5 million a year is spent on trying to achieve this aim and £2 million a year on promoting film festivals such as Bradford Film Festival. The city has been voted the first City of Film by UNESCO. This money is also spent on helping local film societies all over Britain. In particular, the BFI wishes to engage children, because it believes that if young people can be enthused by the art of cinema, they are most likely to be the serious cinemagoers of the future. It must also be remembered that the BFI houses arguably the largest and most comprehensive film archive in the world. Last year, approximately £28 million of lottery money went to financing new British films.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts also does much to encourage British film-making talent and includes a number of special categories in its annual cinema awards for British films and workers in the British film industry, as well as laying on several film screenings a year and talks and master classes given by prominent film-makers. However, the BFI in particular needs considerably more financial government help if it is to make a real impact on a complacent British public. The French spend nearly 10 times as much as we do on promoting their national cinema.
The irony of all this is that British cinema has been doing particularly well over the past few years, both artistically and financially, yet so many of us do not seem to be aware of that fact. I suggest that the BBC or Channel 4 be persuaded to reserve a slot in prime time once a week specifically to show a classic or outstanding modern British film. Maybe that would help us to appreciate our heritage and raise the profile of British film culture.
My Lords, next year the Royal Opera House expects more people to see performances of its work in the cinema than in the opera house, exceeding the 670,000 a year who visit the opera house. By cinema standards, that is small stuff; it is nothing like the audiences for blockbusters with their budgets of millions for promotion. However, it is telling because it eliminates the gulf between art and cinema that my noble friend Lord Stevenson, who introduced this debate, mentioned. Is cinema art? We do not need to ask any more because the art is in the cinemas. People are now using cinemas for a great many different kinds of programme.
The abolition of the UK Film Council in 2010 and its closure in 2011 came as a terrific shock. Why did it happen? It was done with no consultation and no understanding of why it was created in the first place. The idea was for the BFI to deal with the culture of film and for the Film Council to promote the industry. Of course, the intentions would overlap, but I know that because I served on both, as a board member of the BFI from 1992 and its chair from 1999, and then on the UK Film Council until 2002.
The UK Film Council’s tasks were commercial. Why did this Government abolish it? The council took seriously the matter of distribution—getting more people to see films and breaking the grip of the big franchises on the cinema chains. John Woodward invited distributors and cinema managers on to the council. They pioneered unusual ways of showing films. We plumbed the archives held in towns such as Manchester, Mansfield and Bradford to show archive films on giant screens in the football grounds. We negotiated schemes with multi-screen cinemas to take over those screens that were not doing good business and earmarked them for showing old movies from the BFI archive. We showed classics such as “Brief Encounter” and the Ealing comedies. All these were projects to promote film. What was the UK Film Council doing wrong?
Since then everything has moved to digital and there are loads of new ideas for showing film. The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre are now on show in cinemas. There are also little local enterprises. An unnamed donor recently provided for the installation of the latest screen facilities in Primrose Hill library, which we had just rescued from Camden neglect. Numerous television channels run and rerun movies because the appetite for storytelling and brilliant images is insatiable. But the structure of the industry is not meeting the need. Funding for small-scale films by ambitious but unproven talent is the hardest of all to provide, while the unavailability of films in rural areas and most of our small towns is deplorable. Also, while benefiting hugely from the existence of films for their screens, the broadcasters are making a less than commensurate investment in them.
The cancellation of the UK Film Council and the 10% cut in grant in aid to the BFI has positively hindered the future progress of British film, but none the less it persists. Our creative record is outstanding and our skills are recognised worldwide. But as the January 2012 report by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, says, there is much to be done. I believe that the BFI has been loaded with too many diverse responsibilities, and although it is doing a fine job of making steady progress with its five-year plan, the burden of what it is now responsible for requires support from all sides of the industry.
I would ask the Government to back in more positive ways the many small businesses that make up the film industry in this country. Small businesses are supposed to be the sector that the Government favour most. Well, here they are. We need small cinemas in every town. I can give an example of the Aldeburgh Cinema, which I know well. It is supported by volunteers and makes a steady contribution to the year-round Aldeburgh Festival. It has its own documentary festival. It is not just small cinemas that need support, but all the small industries involved: cutting rooms, editing channels, costumiers, make-up conglomerates, set designers, script consultancies, independent producers, agents and publicity companies. All of these come together in miraculous synergy to forward our chances of winning Oscars, BAFTAs and universal recognition. Will the Government please do more to recognise success and help to uphold and further the interests of those who make it possible?
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for having arrived a few moments late. I will look at Hansard to see what I missed. The business of culture is a difficult subject which is far too involved to be dealt with in this evening’s debate, an issue which a number of noble Lords have already addressed. My own view was implied by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, in that the showing of opera productions in cinemas shows that we are actually taking a step towards creating a film culture. To me, a film culture exists when film rates on a par with all the other activities in our cultural life. That is what happens in France, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow. It is called the seventh art in France because the French taxpayer will stand the subsidy that goes to French cinema. People value the heritage of film and it ranks with equal importance to all the other cultural activities of music, literature and so on. Unfortunately, that is not the case here.
I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron—I apologise if it was not—who, in an excellent speech, talked about the Government’s attitude. I rather hesitate to tell noble Lords when I made my first speech on film in this House, but it was when we were debating the Films Act in the 1980s. The attitude of the then Government was absolutely extraordinary but, of course, films came under the Department of Trade and Industry at that time, and anything that was not consistent with the criteria of trade and industry did not really make much impression on them. In fact, the Government were what one might call indifferent, sometimes bordering on the hostile, to any suggestion that cinema should have special treatment of any kind, even though at no time were we begging for special treatment apart from a few tax breaks. That has all changed. I have recently been quite encouraged, certainly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Treasury governs everything in terms of subsidy and all the rest, and the Chancellor has made some quite intelligent adjustments to the tax regime for film, although that does not solve all our problems.
The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, mentioned American cinema, in whose shadow we have always been. The Americans have always made it quite clear that they want it to continue that way—they see us as a threat. In any case, with a British film, it is very difficult to get the kind of returns you expect if you do not get American distribution, so they have a lot of power.
We have to thank the television companies for keeping our film industry alive, as it is the BBC and Channel 4 that have held this country’s film-making activity together. Audience numbers were down until the multiplexes came in and extended their range of cinemas, after which numbers increased from 84 million per year to what we have today, somewhere in the high hundreds of millions. There is a lot of activity going on and the hybrid productions made as a result of the work done by television and film companies have provided a great deal of employment for actors, technicians and all the others who work in the film industry. Raising money is the main problem. When Stephen Frears came to talk to us he told us that film producers mostly scrabble round for money. The situation is unlikely to change so far as creating a film culture is concerned, but the number of interesting and excellent speeches tonight shows that there is some hope.
I do have one concern. Although no one seems aware of it, the cultural impact of the new education policy for dealing with recalcitrant children who do not conform is absolutely deplorable. Both in the new academies and in the existing state sector people are urging that there be a great increase in discipline and so on, and large numbers of children are being excluded. I have three close relatives—my wife and two children—who work in the industry. One of my daughters, a video editor, teaches excluded children when she is not working on an editing project. She asks the children who she teaches to think up a story and to film it. She then edits it, and teaches them how to edit. I can say without exaggeration that the results have been astonishing. The children become fascinated by and involved in the activity. The exclusion of such children is idiotic because they are the kind of people who go into the film industry.
I shall finish with a short anecdote to illustrate the point. My son was working on a television series in America with a very well known British actor. I shall not name the actor because, should he ever pick up the Hansard report and read it, which he probably will not, he would recognise himself. This actor appeared one day to talk to my son about the work that they were doing and my son said by way of conversation, “What drama school did you go to?”. He said, with probably a rather affected London thing, “I didn’t go to no drama school. Hang on a minute, I broke into one once”. He said that the drama school had high skylight windows and he came in with a friend, and it so happened that Alan Bennett was giving a tutorial on writing. Alan Bennett said, “Oh, where did you come from?”. They said, “We was interested in what was going on”. He said, “Well, you had better come in and sit down then”. They did, and that was the start of his career.
I reckon that among those excluded children there is talent. There is always talent with children. They are difficult for all kinds of reasons. Not everybody wants to be a solicitor or a diplomat. There are a lot of people who have talents that need to be exposed, and that is the additional point that I would like to add to this most interesting debate.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a former governor of the British Film Institute. I thank its former distinguished director, my noble friend Lord Stevenson, for initiating this debate, and congratulate him on his opening contribution, which framed the issues so well.
After leaving the BFI, my noble friend Lord Stevenson worked closely with successive Labour Governments to attract more investment into the UK film production sector. In collaboration with Gordon Brown, a long-time supporter of cinema culture, he helped devise the increasingly successful film tax relief scheme. In recent Budgets, George Osborne has made this scheme even more accessible to potential investors, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, also acknowledged.
In your Lordships’ House earlier this week, the Minister said that the UK film and allied industries generate more than 100,000 jobs and contribute more than £4 billion to the national GDP. Last year our film production sector’s total spend was more than £1 billion, with most of that money coming from international companies basing productions in Britain. Just outside the M25 near Watford, Warner Bros is investing £100 million to make its Leavesden studios one of the best film facilities in Europe. The president of Warner Bros UK, Josh Berger, said recently that Britain was in “a new golden age” for film-making. The impact of this international investment is demonstrated by the Oscars and BAFTA awards won by big-budget movies such as “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave”.
We should also celebrate the BFI’s unique contribution to our cinema culture through its financial support of recent British films such as “Sunshine on Leith”, “Philomena”, “Le Week-End” and “The Selfish Giant”. It is a good performance in these challenging times because, like other public bodies, the BFI has had its grant in aid from government cut significantly, while being asked to do more. When the incoming coalition Government abolished the UK Film Council in their bonfire of the quangos, the council’s extensive commercial responsibilities were transferred to the already overburdened BFI. My noble friend Lady Bakewell asked some very trenchant questions regarding that decision.
The new Government also set up the Film Policy Review Panel under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, a former Labour Culture Secretary. It was a wise choice. When the Smith panel reported in 2012, its recommendations were supported by the Government and well received across the film industry. The review’s findings also helped the BFI shape its subsequent strategy document, Film Forever, which declared three core priorities: expanding educational opportunities and boosting audience choice; unlocking film heritage for everyone to enjoy; and, of course, supporting the future success of British film. In January this year my noble friend Lord Smith and his panel updated the review and gave the BFI a largely positive report; in a phrase it might be, “Doing well but could do better”. Across the board, a more collaborative approach by the BFI to potential partners and stakeholders was suggested.
The most direct criticism in the two-year update on film was of government inactivity. Back in 2012, in their response to my noble friend Lord Smith’s recommendations, the Government backed the panel’s call for increased investment in film by our major broadcasters. At present, BBC Films funds some original and popular films, but this investment represents a rather small percentage of the BBC’s huge programme budget for TV and radio. Our other not-for-profit public service broadcaster, Channel 4, now has as a statutory remit,
“the making of high quality films”.
Its Film4 arm is investing £15 million a year to produce an ever expanding slate of successful films. It also broadcasts the UK’s only free-to-air digital channel dedicated to films of quality from around the world, and 22% of its output is British.
That contrasts with the record of our major commercial broadcasters for film production. Back in 2012, the Government said:
“We want to see broadcasters like BSkyB, ITV and Channel 5 doing more to support the industry and this is something we intend to raise with them as a matter of priority”.
Two years on, can the Minister tell the House why nothing seems to have happened?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for the opportunity to talk in this debate. If there were to be two little tweaks I would have made to the terms of the debate, they would have been to put “diverse” in front of “cinema culture”, and “access to a” in front of “diverse”, although the basic premise of having a debate where the accent is on cinema culture rather than on the film industry is an important one.
The way I understand the term “cinema culture” is that it is part of film culture more generally in this country, of which the film industry is then also a part. I think it is important to place it in this context because the cinema should not be regarded as merely an adjunct to, or only for the consumption of, contemporary British and American commercial cinema, important as that function is.
From the film industry’s point of view, it needs to be said that the film industry in the UK has not developed and does not develop in a cultural vacuum. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made the point at Question Time on Monday about the interdependence of theatre and film, which has been a long-standing characteristic of British cinema and continues to be productive. One can add to that the influence of the visual arts, from Derek Jarman to Steve McQueen. As an artist, I am aware that the influences go the other way as well. One can see that in the work of Richard Hamilton, for example, whose retrospective is currently at Tate Modern. The arts world as a whole, which sometimes seems ghettoised, is a place where many influences pervade. This is certainly growing not just in the UK but in other countries in Europe and America, as many individual artists in the widest sense work more and more in different mediums of which film-making is one. With this wider cultural context in mind, the Government have to be careful that they do not simply narrowly support a film industry for purely commercial reasons while stripping away support for film culture and for the other less commercial arts that feed into that culture.
Cinema culture must include enabling access to global cinema and the history of film. The funding cuts to the BFI of 10% in the next year, in this context as well as others, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, pointed out, are worrying. I wonder, too, whether more can be done for our art-house cinemas generally, as I think that the appetite for world cinema is much greater than is commonly believed.
I want to take the opportunity of expanding further on an issue that we discussed in this Chamber late last year. I refer to the Competition Commission’s ruling on Cineworld regarding its arts Picturehouses, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, referred. There are two things I want to say about this. First, the Competition Commission must in such cases take into consideration cultural value, which perhaps ought to be a precept for the whole of this debate. There is a resonance here within the wider arts world about what all arts and cultural enterprises have to offer that is distinct from commercial interest. I think it is impossible for a body placed in this situation to make a meaningful decision without bearing in mind this concern. For example, one can cite the Cambridge Film Festival held at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse as having a distinct cultural value. The second, and related, thing is the Competition Commission’s insistence on there having to be two entirely separate markets, and the accent being on so-called value for money and the behaviour of the cinema-goer. I can see how the problem has occurred because of the development in recent years of what might be termed combination cinemas, where new commercial releases are played side by side with foreign language films or older classics. The reality is that individual cinema-goers will often go to many different kinds of films. I do not know of an avid cinema-goer who would not, for example, go to see a new subtitled release from Iran one day but the next go to see—perhaps with their family, perhaps not—the latest Muppets film. It is pure snobbery to suggest that such a separation has to exist in cinema-goers but that is not so say that art houses do not nevertheless offer a distinct and uniquely valuable product over and above the commercial screens which an exclusive commercial cinema does not. The proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, of an art screen designation as a standard needs to be taken very seriously.
Commercial cinema is thriving in the UK, although it is also changing and may not always in future be completely about film in the traditional sense, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, pointed out. The rise of event cinema is testament to a burning desire that continues to exist for being part of an audience in front of a big screen. Such an event last year involving film, funded by the BFI Distribution Fund new models scheme, was Ben Wheatley’s film “A Field in England”, which premiered simultaneously at the cinema, on Film4 and on DVD and Blu-ray. Public funding should still have a hugely important part to play in promoting diversity and encouraging access and innovation in our cinema culture.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, on securing it. Yet again, the immense experience of your Lordships on these matters comes very much to the fore.
We have a vibrant and strong cinema culture in the United Kingdom. Last year, there were over 165 million cinema admissions in spite of tough competition from the internet, video on demand and the other growing sorts of format. It is one of the UK’s most popular cultural activities. In 2013, 58% of the population went to the cinema at least once. Many other activities would give their eye teeth for such a percentage of the population. Last year, the UK box office was worth over £1 billion—the third consecutive year it has exceeded that figure.
Cinema is integral to the film industry. As has already been mentioned in the Chamber twice this week, the UK film and allied industries contribute £4.6 billion to UK GDP and support 117,000 direct and indirect jobs. Through the British Film Institute, the Government are investing in a range of lottery and grant-funded programmes to encourage its further development. I am very conscious of the considerable number of your Lordships who have been so involved in the BFI but I was very pleased to have a very positive discussion only recently with Amanda Neville, chief executive of the BFI, on the work it is undertaking. I realise that there have been discussions about cuts. At the Dispatch Box earlier this week I said that I recognised that the BFI had had a 10% cut. That was the average cut across government. Having had discussions with the BFI, my personal view is that it is doing an extremely good job with the sum of money it was granted.
The purpose of the triennial review—which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised—is to look at the functions and form of the BFI as well as its efficiency and effectiveness. This is in line with Cabinet Office guidance that states that government departments should review their public bodies every three years. Reviews are intended to be proportionate to the size and nature of the body under review. Of course, the Government will take that into account as part of their review and ensure that it is concluded as quickly as possible.
Part of the appeal of cinemas is the broad and diverse range of experiences they offer, from specialist programming to amazing sound, from modern auditoriums to community venues. I was very conscious of what both the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said about art-house cinemas generally and specifically. The Government see art-house cinemas as a key element of the film industry. This sector generates substantial audiences and commercial income, and is a key element of cultural cinema. As I have mentioned before to your Lordships, the Competition Commission was designed by statute to be an independent organisation in dealing with these matters, but I will take away the points raised this afternoon.
Nearly all the cinemas in the UK have now converted to digital, with the sector investing £200 million to support that. I believe that that will also enable the sector to grow. To meet the challenges and opportunities provided by the growth in technology and other formats, cinemas are diversifying. More alternative content and event cinema is being programmed. Live performances at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House are being streamed worldwide, now accounting for nearly 2% of box office receipts.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to the number of cinemas. There are now 400 cinemas across the UK showing Royal Opera House performances, compared with 45 when the scheme first started four years ago. A further 1,100 cinemas abroad will also participate. That is a very encouraging sign of our internationalism. That is not only innovative for both cinemas and our cultural institutions but hugely beneficial for audiences. I know that from my experience in Bury St Edmunds and other places, where seeing such performances gives great cheer to so many people.
The Government recognise the importance of the big-screen experience—both creatively and economically —but, as several of your Lordships said, we must broaden access to such entertainment. That is why the BFI has as one of its key strategic priorities to increase audiences and widen access to film. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, challenged both the BFI and the Government to ensure that. As part of its audience development and production fund, the BFI is investing £5.5 million of lottery funding to expand audience numbers and support a diverse range of film programming and film festivals across the UK. That is designed to increase access to and widen awareness of high-quality British independent and specialised films to help to boost audience choice and enrich film culture in the United Kingdom.
The BFI’s Film Audience Network is investing in nine audience development hubs across the UK to help attract greater audiences for British and independent films, including five major independent cinemas. The BFI’s neighbourhood fund is supporting communities across the UK who are unable to enjoy a cinema experience due to geographical, social or economic circumstances. That will also help establish or develop up to 1,000 community film venues across the country.
The BFI is supporting eight exhibition and film festival venues across the country, including Bradford. My noble friend Lord Glasgow specifically mentioned the city being named the world’s first UNESCO city of film, which I think makes a real difference to morale in Yorkshire but also to cinema generally.
The Government are also playing their part in widening access to film. As part of the Deregulation Bill being considered in the other place, we propose measures that will remove a burden from film exhibition in community premises, such as church or village halls and community centres. I hope that that will be of encouragement to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. That has huge potential to benefit rural populations, where there can be limited access to cinemas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, placed particular emphasis on film education. To help to engender a cinema culture, it is important to encourage appreciation of film from a young age. I am delighted that the noble Baroness is involved with the BFI’s education programme, which is investing £26 million of lottery funding with the aim of reaching 26,700 schools across the UK over the next four years. The scheme is specifically to provide opportunities for every child and young person between the ages of five and 19 to watch, understand and make films. I shall be very interested to see what progress we have made at the end of that scheme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, also mentioned the importance of the work we are doing to encourage new generations of film-makers. That is why the BFI Film Academy, funded by the Department for Education and the lottery, is so important in providing opportunities for 16 to 19 year-olds in each of the nations to develop their skills for careers in film. We must not forget that the industry is also investing in skills development. For example, there is the Warner Bros. creative talent programme, Pinewood’s apprenticeship scheme and the BAFTA scholarships.
It has indeed been a great year for the British film industry, with an all-time high of more than 700 films being released in UK cinemas in 2013—an extraordinary number. There were eight British successes at the Oscars and there was inward investment exceeding £1 billion. The UK’s craft and crew, actors and musicians, state-of-the-art studios, visual effects houses and, indeed, our tax reliefs enable us to compete in a global market. As I think I said in your Lordships’ House earlier this week, Josh Berger, president of Warner Bros. UK, said only last week that this country is the best place in the world to make movies today. I hope that reassures my noble friend Lord Glasgow.
It was generous of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, to refer to the Chancellor’s tax reliefs. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, also spoke on them. These tax reliefs are very encouraging and build on what the previous Government did. I hope that that is an example of where the creative industries are held in such regard, because they are a hugely important part not just of the economy but of our culture, too. UK film distributors have invested £350 million to release films in cinemas and promote them to audiences at home. The BFI is also investing £4.4 million through its film distribution fund to promote more specialised film to wider audiences. Again, that is very important. Indeed, the BAFTA award-winning “Philomena”, backed by the BFI film fund, was the biggest grossing UK independent film of 2013, taking almost £11 million.
I was intrigued by the great memory lane that my noble friend Lord Glasgow took us down, through “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and all sorts of films that were the beginning of one’s childhood film-viewing. However, we should be more positive about what we have created. In those great technicians, actors, musicians and visual effects people, we have some of the very best in the world involved in so many ways in our film industry. But it is also clear that audiences are also becoming more discerning and demanding more choice and content. As the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said only recently as president of the Film Distributors’ Association, the ways in which cinemas are screening plays, opera and ballet are redefining what a modern cinema actually is. If we are to do this well and encourage a lasting cinema culture in the UK, we will need to be looking at adapting and re-thinking it. Cinemas need to be relevant to all parts of the population. There is a challenge in encouraging young people on that.
I will look at Hansard, as I will want to reply to a number of questions in some detail—from the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, for instance, and from others of your Lordships. I believe that cinema is one of the nation’s great cultural experiences, and it is our task to ensure that that continues.