Rant 40: And so, it starts...

Rant 40: And so, it starts... Rabab Ghazoul, Where his hands decay, mine begin, 2004. DVD. Credit: Rabab Ghazoul

On Monday 26 July the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced the closure of the UK Film Council. John Riley gives us an overview of the UKFC and what its abolition might mean to artists working in film and video.

If culture was hoping for a stay of execution until October’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), yesterday it was disappointed. 55 organisations chopped or merged, the most high-profile demise being the UK Film Council (UKFC).

The UKFC bestrode a huge – perhaps unbridgeable – field. Simultaneously making the economic, cultural and educational cases probably proved an unmasticateable mawful, and in film funding it often tried to make sure the toast fell jam-side up, with minority shares in semi-bankable projects.

Their First Light fund successfully supported young filmmakers but there’s been little for experimental and artists’ film: Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Wood) and Hunger (Steve McQueen), whatever they are, aren’t cutting-edge and arguably could have found their money elsewhere. And the UKFC wasn’t interested in gallery video art.

Not that that’s necessarily bad: The senior management’s background was overwhelmingly commercial, and wisely chose to channel money to organisations who knew the subject. But there was precious little of it. 

The British Film Institute (BFI) used some to programme and release on DVD artists’ films, and even commission installations from people including Mat Collishaw and the Wilson Twins.
Then there’s the Independent Cinema Officeonedotzero and others servicing (usually) slightly different groups. The Digital Innovation in Film programme (co-funded by NESTA – relatively safe under its endowment) helped some small (and not so small) companies.

Beyond that are bodies largely or wholly independent of the UKFC. Having been kicked around far too much in past years LUX, with its superb archive of artists’ films is an Arts Council England client – though they’ve also been helped by UKFC. no.w.here does some great work with precious little. There are galleries such as the Tate and the (possibly, still troubled) Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) and publisher/distributors like Wallflower Press. Outside London, though, the picture is patchier.

So how might the UKFC’s demise affect artists who work in film? At the moment it’s hard to say, but the temptation is to say 'not much'. Their money – when they have it – comes from elsewhere.

So, we still await the Comprehensive Spending Review…

Contributed by John Riley

John Riley is a writer, critic, curator and broadcaster concentrating on film and/or music and the art of Eastern Europe.

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