BFI 2022: their future plans. Now with added animation!

The BFI has published its new five year plan ‘designed to help shape the BFI’s next chapter for film, television, animation and the moving image generally’. And we think that even just from that phrase – acknowledging animation as something distinct – it’s very encouraging!

It’s a high level document – and it’s strategic, so about their ambitions, not necessarily the reality of what they’ll be able to do. But still.

They say ‘the riches of British animation’ will be an ongoing focus in their cultural programme, making available ‘comprehensive history of British animation featuring 275 films from the 19th century to the present day.’

And there are exciting prospects for animation production from the BFI Film Fund. In the next five years they say they’ll focus their work ‘across live-action fiction, animation and documentaries. ’ We’re not sure that leaves out..but again, animation is emphatically there.

They say they’ll ‘support work across different platforms and lengths to encourage creative filmmaking that expands the possibilities of storytelling and form’, and they’ll update eligibility criteria ‘specifically around length of work and the expectations of a theatrical release.’ They’ll ‘de-restrict’ their funds to allow them to support ‘certain non-theatrical, episodic, hour-long or other non feature-length work, a greater variety of animation and digital work, and narrative filmmaking on other platforms, including immersive and interactive work.’ Which sounds great for what a lot of us do.

A couple of other key things to note that might matter to us are their plan to devolve 25 per cent of all BFI production funding to decision-makers based outside London, and a commitment to a ten-year skills strategy with Creative Skillset.

It’s all here.



Arts Council England keen to get animation applications

After our meeting with Arts Council England and BFI last year, one of the things ACE promised was to explore how they can support animation through their existing funds, namely Grants for the arts.

Last week we went along to a briefing for ‘word spreaders’, including us, bloggers, HE and some people from their Random Acts Network Centres.

ACE doesn’t fund all kinds of animation – they’re guidance is: ‘animation projects which are experimental in form or content, or technologically innovative’.

The briefing focused on animation in a visual arts context, but they acknowledged that animation exists outside visual arts practice. And they’ve previously told us that they value the creative contribution of the animation sector and continue to welcome and support proposals for funding from animators and organisations working with animation.

ACE gets very few animation applications. And lack of awareness that animation is eligible for this funding clearly has something to do with that. The animation applications that they do get have a higher success rate than other visual arts applications.

We explained that one reason they don’t get animation applications might be that AAUK members have been told bluntly by ACE staff that ‘ACE doesn’t fund animation’, and that experimental animation or anything shown in cinemas is ‘film sector activity’ and not appropriate to ACE’s remit. They assured us that everyone at ACE now knows that’s not the case.

There was quite a bit of discussion about support for early career animators. They pointed out that establishing a career is a challenge for all artists. We pointed out that it’s more of a challenge for animators because those other practices have sector support from organisations supported by ACE’s National Portfolio, but they don’t support any animation specialist organisations.

So, if you have an ‘animation project which is experimental in form or content, or technologically innovative’, get applying.

Grants for the arts is a rolling programme with no deadlines. You can apply at anytime. Decisions for up to £15,000 take six weeks. Over £15,000 take twelve. First time applicants are advised to go for up to £15,000 with their first application. The assessment considers: artistic quality, public engagement, finance and management.

Guidelines are here.

Our tips:

Don’t be put off by their online submission system. It’s not intuitive and it can be very frustrating. You have to register before you can make an application, and it takes five days for them to validate your profile.

You need a minimum of 10% cash. More is better. That can be private funding – including your own money!

Public engagement can be tricky for film – for an installation, for example, a gallery can guarantee exhibition, but with films, festivals only select work after it’s been made. Production or R&D only applications are eligible, but you will need to give a clear indication of WHO you want to eventually engage with your work and HOW you’ll do that. And that can include your distribution strategy, and examples of where your previous films have shown. But remember – ACE’s remit is to support the arts – and audiences – in England. So don’t just say you’re going to show internationally only.

Don’t waste their time – or yours – submitting something they’re not likely to be interested in eg with a more mainstream focus, conventional character narrative, children’s tv series, etc

It’s a very good idea – essential, even – to contact them for advice before submitting. The contact details are on the guidelines. And if they say they don’t fund animation, tell them they’re wrong! The London people we met said they’ll often meet people – but in other regions there might not be the same capacity to do that.

You may get rejected. But don’t let that put you off necessarily – they’ll give you a reason why you weren’t successful, and that may include advice on what to change in a re-submission.

BFI 2022 consultation: our submission


Supporting the moving image in all its forms
1. Which forms of moving image, if any, should be given more attention and support by the BFI?

You should give animation more attention and support.

We strongly endorse an approach that better reflects and responds to how people are creating moving image, and how people are engaging with it, today. We think suggest it is important to consider how these diverse forms are rarely discrete and wholly distinct from one another other, or for that matter, from feature film production.

As we have mentioned in previous correspondence, animation is the predominant digital visual form, inherently cross-platform, and a core component of digital form and culture, and Animation Alliance UK members are active across and between all of ‘TV, video games, interactive media, virtual reality and online content.‘

BFI recognises the cultural value of independent animation through your support for festivals. As we have mentioned previously, the sums of money required to underpin a vibrant independent animation sector are relatively very small indeed, especially in relation to the potential cultural and reputational returns on any investment.

2. Are there any areas or forms of the moving image in which the BFI should not be involved? Why?

Generally, BFI takes a considered approach to this – supporting the development and production of cultural film (our concerns at lack of support for independent animation notwithstanding), whilst considering the cultural and creative value of more commercial forms, such as advertising and music video, through your archive, exhibition and education work.

3. What can the BFI do to support innovation in creation, distribution, and exhibition now that the distinctions between film, television and other forms of the moving image as art are increasingly fluid?

As we have mentioned to you previously, the Warwick Commission’s report, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, noted that ‘the points of connection between the Cultural and Creative Industries are where the potential for greatest value creation resides – culturally, socially and economically’ and that ‘insufficient attention has been paid to the synergies between the interlocking sectors of the Cultural and Creative Industries Ecosystem. There is already a flow of talent, ideas, and public and private investment across and between the Cultural and Creative Industries’.

Animation practice sits at the nexus of this interchange. The Warwick Commission’s recommendation that ‘this flow needs to now be better identified and encouraged’ and the warning that ‘not enough is being done to stimulate or realise the creative potential of individuals, or to maximise their cultural and economic value to society’ could not apply more strongly, and critically, than they do to animation.

It is in independent animation that much innovation and diversification around digital content, forms and distribution is taking place, and where the commercial and cultural interconnect and cross-pollinate. The Accelerate Animation Report (2013, Animate Projects/Jerwood Charitable Foundation/Arts Council England) mapped the the changing landscape of current animation image practice.

We hope that you will seek to identify and encourage this flow through greater engagement with creative practitioners.

4. We support many aspects of moving image culture, such as its heritage, creators, audiences and study. Have you any views on where you think our priorities should lie?

It is an ecology. Prioritising any one of those above the others means than soon, everything is diminished.

Diversity is the heart of creativity
1. What emphasis should the BFI place on a commitment to diversity?

2. There are many elements to diversity, such as social background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or geographical location. Should the BFI focus on some elements more than others? If so, which and why?

We think this is an odd question, and cannot think why one ‘element’ might be privilged over another, other than to redress particular imbalance.

You don’t mention age or gender: sustaining any kind of career in cultural moving image is a challenge for anyone. For animation, we think experience should be valued and that any focus on younger/emergent talent should be balanced by support for established animators, and steps to assist people to resume careers after having children.

3. What is the biggest thing the BFI could do to enable a lasting and positive change on diversity in the UK screen industries?

Championing the arts of film, television and the moving image

1. Thinking about schools, colleges and universities, what, if anything, should be done to increase the use of film in study and the study of film itself?

2. What do you think of the level of provision and cultural range of film and moving image in venues near you (cinemas, arts centres, libraries, places of learning?) And what would you like to watch and experience in those venues?

3. In your experience, is it easy to find British independent and world cinema online?
Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree

4. Relating to question 3, is there more that the BFI could do?

5. Do you think the BFI should do more to make our film, television and moving image heritage available to the public?
Strongly agree

6. Relating to question 5, what should we do?

7. What, if anything, should the BFI do to encourage people to watch more British films?

Delivering across the UK

1. What can we do to improve careers in film, TV and moving image, particularly for those outside of London and the South East of England?

For independent animation, doing anything for animators wherever they are would be a start.

The Accelerate Animation Report found that 60% of independent animators are based outside London.

2. What, if anything, should the BFI do to spread its funding more evenly across the UK?

3. What, if anything, should the BFI do to support the growth of screen industries outside London and the South East?

We note that not one of the BFI Vision Awards 3 recipients is an animation producer.

4. What more can the BFI do to promote UK talent, business and culture internationally?

Despite the lack of public funding for animation, the success of British animation – student work, studio and self-funded films – at the BAFTAs, Oscars, and international festivals – is testament to both the quality and determination of British artistic talent. We welcome the support for animators to attend festivals that BFI offers, through the British Council scheme.

We think there is much more that might be done, for example, providing advice and guidance on co-production that addresses the particular needs of short form/independent productions.

British Council/BFI travel grants are available to short film makers, but the UK has no official presence at the main European and North American showcases for animation at Annecy and Ottawa.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Animation Alliance UK has nearly 300 members, including many award winning animators and artists, as well as producers, festival programmers and curators, working across the breadth of moving image.

We are allied to Animation UK and Animated Women UK; we have members in common, and shared concerns. Animation Alliance UK’s focus is on animation as independent practice and cultural form.

As you know, we have long standing concerns, echoed in our submissions to Lord Smith’s Film Policy Review in 2011, and your Film Forever consultation in 2012. Before that, in 2003, a previous association of independent animators, the Animation Network, made a similar submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

We welcome the initiatives to support animation feature filmmaking that have been introduced since 2011: the tax credits to support children’s television animation; the BFI Aardman Development Lab; the Vision Awards for animation studios; and the BFI Film Fund development support for animation features.

However, there remains a lack of support for other forms of animation: for experiment, innovation and creative risk and it is still true that, in England, ‘independent animation seems to languish in a chasm between the responsibilities and remit of Arts Council England and BFI.’

There are direct funding schemes for animation in 11 EU countries. A glance at what Ireland and Canada do for animation should shame the BFI.

In 2013, Arts Council England and BFI acknowledged in 2013 their need ‘to undertake joint research and consultation to understand the animation ecology across film and arts’. In 2013, you tweeted that animation sector R&D was underway and that there would be shorts and targeted development schemes coming soon.

So, following our meeting with BFI and Arts Council England in December 2015, we welcome BFI’s commitment to define its remit and responsibilities with regards to animation, and your promise to do some further sector consultation, as part of the BFI 2022 consultation, and to consider your ongoing support for animation as part of this.

We believe that your work to define your remit and responsibilities with regards to animation has to be informed by an understanding of the sector that you do not have, and which can only come from a fuller, more meaningful engagement than has happened to date.