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Q&A: BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill

30 January 2012

The BFI has invested £13.2m in 20 feature films since 1 April 2011, when it took over lottery funding from the now defunct UK Film Council.

Upcoming BFI supported projects include Mike Newell’s Great Expectations, adapted by David Nicholls (One Day) which had £2m invested in it. The BFI also put £1.67m into Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson, while £900k went into Mat Whitecross’ ‘Madchester’-set, Spike Island. Other big winners in terms of lottery funding include Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (£1m), Sally Potter’s Bomb (£1m) and Ruari Robinson’s Last Days on Mars (£1m).

The BFI is, of course, still looking for a film funding boss following the resignation last year of Tanya Seghatchian.

The organisation is also busy digesting many of the recommendations of Lord Smith’s film review published earlier this month. The implications of the review seem to be that the BFI will have to scale up further, incorporating all the work that the UK Film Council used to do - on top of the BFI’s traditional cultural and educational functions.

Following the review, I put a few questions to BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill to gauge her organisation’s reaction to its findings - and to get her sense of the outlook for the British film industry in 2012.

What is the BFI’s reaction to Lord Smith’s film review? How is it likely to affect the workings and function of the BFI in the future?
We really welcome the report having worked closely with Chris Smith and the panel, which actually included three of our Governors, throughout. We’re particularly pleased that the report looks at the film sector completely in the round, and we welcome its strong emphasis on the role played by audiences.
At the moment we’re busy developing the BFI’s own Five Year Forward Plan for Film, taking input and views from as many people as possible. It will of course be informed by the findings of the Film Policy Review, and we are looking forward to taking our plan out to consultation with industry in the spring.
In the meantime we know it’s essential to maintain the momentum we began in April. So through our Film Fund we’ve been backing exciting new British films across a range of genres and budgets; we boosted our P&A Fund by £1m and have been investing to ensure audiences across the UK enjoy greater access to films; and we’ve moved quickly to launch new support for the promotion and export of British films internationally.

2011 was a strong year for British film-making, both critically and in terms of box office. What’s the outlook for the British film industry in 2012? Are you expecting significant levels of local production and inward investment?
This is a great question and it’s true, we are enjoying a wonderfully vibrant period for British film. 2011 was a phenomenal year, with international acclaim for homegrown films, fantastic box office results, especially in the independent sector, and inward investment from film production continuing to achieve record levels.
But this should never make us complacent. The film industry is forward facing and we must continually focus on tomorrow: tomorrow’s audiences, tomorrow’s talent, and tomorrow’s markets. It is only by maintaining this focus on the future that we will remain competitive.
2012 is already off to a good start with British talent featuring strongly at the Golden Globes, high hopes for the BAFTAs and Oscars®, and nine new British feature films, alongside 11 shorts, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re seeing the UK’s locations, facilities, talent and highly skilled crew, supported by the vital work of the British Film Commission, continue to attract productions from around the world; and the UK Government has demonstrated its clear commitment to film as a growth area and driver of inward investment though the extension of the film tax relief until 2015.   
However, we are pragmatic and while 2011 has been a particularly strong year, exceptional in many ways, we know it will be a hard act to follow.
It’s still a challenging time for many across industry as traditional business models break down, we continue to wrestle with the threats from piracy and copyright infringement, and the economic landscape remains tough to navigate.
But for me one of the best ways we can address these challenges is for the industry to really pull together in support of the Film Policy Review. In fact one of the best things I think has already come out of the review is a much greater sense of connectedness across industry; a real sense that working together we can achieve more and reap rewards across the board. There’s no doubt in my mind that the key to a future successful and prosperous industry is keeping that connectedness going – and the BFI wants to be a vital link in that industry-wide chain.

Which BFI funded films have recently / are set to go into production?
The BFI Film Fund’s production slate is looking incredibly exciting, featuring films across every budget level and genre, with some of the UK’s most well known and respected directors there alongside the bright new filmmaking talent of tomorrow who are making their first or second features.
Since 1 April last year the BFI Film Fund has awarded over £13.2m in Lottery funding to the production of 20 British feature films. To highlight just a few, we have the latest adaptation of Dickens’ ever-popular Great Expectations directed by Mike Newell, adapted by David Nicholls and starring a host of top UK film talent including Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Robbie Coltrane. We also have the eagerly-awaited film from Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer, Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini's Streetdance 2 3D is set for release on 30 March and was backed by the BFI. Alongside these we have films such as Fast Girls, a really heartwarming sports drama co-written by Noel Clarke and Broken, the directorial debut of acclaimed theatre director Rufus Norris.
The BFI Film Fund works closely with writers, directors and producers to develop projects. Since 1 April the Fund has invested over £2.3m in the development of 99 film projects, including Peter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, currently being adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman with Number 9 Films, and the latest project from Michael Powell award-winning director, Nick Whitfield, co-written with Rachel Tunnard, The Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time, which is being developed with Forward Films. 

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