Is there a British cinema?

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Aujourd’hui le cinéma britannique se porte plutôt mal : problème de financement, crise, concurrence des États-Unis, blocage du système… Le gouvernement propose des réformes souvent contestées et l’avenir de l’industrie du cinéma britannique semble être sombre. Néanmoins de gros projets sont en cours de réalisation et la créativité en matière de production télévisée est une spécificité bien anglaise et toujours très appréciée à l’étranger. Il suffit d’observer le nombre impressionnant de séries anglaises diffusées en France …

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This year British cinema is very well represented in Cannes as nine films in competition (Only Lovers are Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch, The Selfish Giant by Clio Barnard, Last Days on Mars by Ruairi Robinson, For those in Peril by Paul Wright, A Story of Children and Film by Mark Cousins, Swandown by Andrew Kötting, Monsoon Shootout by Amit Kumar, Muhammad Ali’s greatest Fight by Stephen Frears, The Magificient Lion Boy by Ana Caro) are financed in Britain. But only one British cinema company is represented in the festival’s official selection (Rainmark Films for Muhammad Ali’s greatest Fight). Moreover the next Star Wars is expected to be filmed in Britain. Does all that mean that the British cinema is healthy?

The British cinema has always dealt with the fact that for several decades the sector has been dominated by the American industry. In British culture cinema may not be as predominant as it is in the United States. In fact Great Britain has the smallest number of movie theaters in Europe! If some British movies are still released every year, the system of financing and production isn’t as simple as in other countries. Let’s see a brief and funny overview. Great Britain has the weakest cinema industry in western Europe. It is the most affected by the American competition as  90% of the films released are American.

There is a reorganization of the movie industry’s financing to optimize limited funds. An effort is being made to attract production and financing in order to preserve London’s place among the  worldwide cinematographic capitals. That’s why London mayor Boris Johnson decided to inject £4 billion into the industry. The British government did away with the UK Film Council (established/founded in 2000) which aimed at generating a self-governing movie industry, better representing the British cinema abroad and was also in charge of distributing the funds of the national lottery to the directors (£160 billion to more than 900 producers). The King’s Speech,  for example, benefited from the support of the UKFC.

But the budget is soaring and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced the end of the UKFC in 2010. The mission of the UKFC was transferred to the BFI (British Film Institute) which aims at promoting culture and patriotism through cinema and television and funding many movies and documentaries. Despite the economic situation and the decline of public financing, foreign investments keep on increasing and Great Britain is a popular shooting location.

Some tax benefits are delivered to 20% of the directors provided the movie be called “British”. Moreover George Osborne offers big tax relief to attract filmmakers. And it works: the next Star Wars will be filmed in Britain as it welcomes such a great success “I think it is a real vote of confidence in Britain’s creative industries”.

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But setbacks have multiplied and studios face many different difficulties. There are increasingly few British production firms and many argue therefore that there is no British film industry anymore. Furthermore the disappearance of private investments was accelerated by the dismantling of the cinema’s support system since 1979 under Thatcher. And now some envy the French producing system.

However the British film industry is far from being non-existent. The BBC, one of Britain’s biggest institutions, holds a prominent place in that sector as it produces a large number of films (Billy Elliot, Match Point, An education, Fish Tank, Street Dance, We need to talk about Kevin, Bright Star, Tamara Drewe, Jane Eyre, Perfect Sense, The Duchess…), documentaries and series (Inside Men, Sherlock, Hunter, Doctor Who) that are worldwide successes. Furthermore, with its BBC Britain is a pioneer in series. Is it necessary to remind the success and influence of British series abroad? Is there a single young adult in France who isn’t passionate about a British series? The Hour, Inside Men, Parade’s End (currently on ARTE), Shameless, Skins, Misfits, Downtown Abbey, Torchwood. Do these titles sound familiar? The whole world envies their television productions, buys them or worse, tries to adapt them, which often turns out to be catastrophic…

Justine CARLES & Caroline FOUCAMBERT

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