BFI launches five-year UK film plan

King's Speech star Colin Firth The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, struggled to find funding but went on to international success

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Some £285 million of National Lottery money is to be put into the British film industry over the next five years.

The sum, which will be used to boost film production, was revealed in a new five-year plan issued by the British Film Institute (BFI).

Money will also be spent on increasing audience choice and education.

The plan, dubbed "New Horizons", sets out measures to increase the variety of films shown in cinemas, particularly outside central London.

According to the BFI, "only 7% of all cinema screens are regularly devoted to non-mainstream film" and these are mostly found in the capital and the south east.

However, BFI director Amanda Nevill said British film was "on a good wave at the moment".

"If you look at the last 10 years, the average market share for British films in cinemas has been about 6%. Last year it was 13%."

That can be attributed to the likes of Oscar-winner The King's Speech, sitcom spin-off The Inbetweeners Movie and the final instalment of the Harry Potter franchise.

This year has seen the likes of The Woman in Black and The Iron Lady, while the latest Bond film Skyfall is expected to be a big attraction in October.

There are some bold initiatives within the BFI's five-year strategy, albeit without specific targets.

The most striking are the plans to put more British films in UK cinemas; to promote more variety in cinemas; and to make British films more successful abroad.

It is laudable stuff but there are challenges. How do you get more British films into the foreign-owned multiplexes that make up the vast majority of cinema screens in the UK?

And how do you make British films more popular abroad? Is it about making films more commercial, or is it about making them more avant-garde?

These are really tricky issues.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron said the British film industry needed to support "commercially successful pictures".

"We should aim even higher, building on the incredible success of recent years," he added.

Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Nevill stressed it was impossible to predict whether a film would be a hit at the funding stage.

"The thing about making films is its inherently risky. Nobody's yet come up with a great magic formula.

"The King's Speech is a good example. In the beginning, it found it quite difficult to find the funding to close the budget - and yet it captured the hearts and minds of people not just in Britain, but around the world."

The BFI took over funding responsibilities after the UK Film Council was abolished last year.

The organisation aims to invest £57m of Lottery money per year, with more than half of that devoted to "supporting British film".

This will be achieved through investing in development, production and skills.

The BFI's Film Fund, which puts money into production and development, will increase from £18m this year to £24m by 2017.

Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black A sequel to The Woman in Black is planned after it took more than £75m at global box-offices

The organisation also plans to spend £17m on developing audiences and movie education, plus £3m on film heritage and restoration work.

Its report also supports the creation of an annual British Film Week, which was proposed by Lord Smith in his review of the industry in January.

The BFI's five-year strategy is open for public consultation for four weeks, and was drawn up after extended talks with the film industry.

BBC arts editor Will Gompertz said the report described itself as "'visionary yet highly practical', which sounds like an oxymoron".

He said: "In translation, it's addressing concerns of two key stakeholders - the film-making community, who want to see a dynamic, risk-taking approach to film funding; and the government, who've made it clear they want to see a more streamlined, populist approach to film funding."

'Grass roots'

At a press briefing on Monday, held at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in central London, Nevill said the major multiplex cinema chains had been "very involved" in formulating the BFI proposals.

But she said the BFI accepted their need to generate profits for their shareholders, saying the BFI's efforts would focus on "the grass roots of film".

"Surveys show British audiences like to feel they're going to see British films," said Culture Minister Ed Vaizey.

"We want our domestic exhibitors as it were to promote British films, but also it should work for them commercially."

The government has published a response to Lord Smith's review in which it welcomes the majority of the 56 recommendations it made.

But the issue of piracy did give rise to one area of disagreement, with the government rejecting a call for specific laws banning the recording of films in cinemas on the grounds that it is already banned under existing legislation.

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