Sunday 30th November
Derek has been nominated for an awards ceremony that I’ve never heard of. Arriving at the old Fish Market at Billingsgate. I’m surprised by the amount of bling involved. Following the money I discover that this grotesque event has been funded by the Film Council –buying themselves a celebrity led story in the next day’s newspaper that they can show their ministers and all congratulate themselves that there is a British Film Industry. John Woodward who destroyed the British Film Institute ten years ago (sacking me in the process) gives the speech of welcome. The ten years haven’t been kind to him – he looks like a man who knows he can’t get another job and will have to go down with his ship. His nasty little speech goes on about Britishness in a way that would delight the BNP.
The UKFilm Council is a typical New Labour quango – hatched in secrecy and cronyism it has no basis either in statute or political debate. Rumour has it that Chris Smith was wined and dined on the Polygram Jet; what is certain is that his Polygram pals Alan Parker and Stuart Till were given a brand new institution with more lavish funding than any previous film regime. Chris Smith, Alan Parker, and indeed the PolyGram Jet, have gone the way of all flesh but John Woodward, their appointment remains, a cultural Pol Pot presiding over an economic desert of his own creation. His only success is setting financial records for the quangocracy. The last published accounts for the UK Film Council show that no fewer than 7 executives are earning more than a Cabinet Minister’s 130,000 a year . These figures bear no comparison to salaries in the industry itself. The Head of Development is on a cool 160,000 a year (at least three time the industry norm). And where does this money come from? Well Lottery regulations forbid its money to be used for overheads so the Film Council has devised a method of investing Lottery money in commercial films that would be made anyway and then using the revenue to fund the excessive salaries. In everyday language this is called money laundering.
Perhaps this public sector largesse could be justified if there were a burst of original and crowd pleasing movies. No such luck. If you compare the UKFilmCouncil with its modest predecessors – British Screen and the British Film Institute Production Board – then on any value for money criteria the UKFilmCouncil is a miserable failure. It is true that there were two great British films at Cannes this year Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City and Steve McQueen’s Hunger. But neither of these had anything to do with the Film Council. Indeed Davies, universally acknowledged as one of our great directors, had not worked for nearly a decade as the UKFilmCouncil had turned down one after another of his projects. Indeed the Film Council’s funding of these awards seems merely part of their remorseless attempt to hide their substantial failures by stamping their logo everywhere. There are touching moments in the awards as when Sean Bobbitt, the cinematographer for Hunger says how much he learned from McQueen. However, all I can see is a microcosm of the disaster Brown has made of the British economy. I leave early.