BFI Film Forever. And animation.

Yesterday, the BFI announced its five year plan – Film Forever: Supporting UK Film 2012-2017. It outlines three key strategic priorities:

  • Education and audiences
  • British film and filmmaking
  • Film heritage

You can download the plan here. It is inevitably a broad, mainly headline document, but there is certainly some good news for animation.

BFI is clearly taking development and support of animation features seriously, but there are two things that are glaringly absent – support for new animation talent, and support for animated shorts.

New talent development may well come to be supported through a “UK-wide network for the discovery and growth of new talent” – as part of a development strategy to be agreed in partnership with Creative Scotland, the Film Agency for Wales, Northern Ireland Screen, Creative England, Film London and other key organisations. The Network will scout for talent and run short film programmes. These plans are clearly at an early stage, and it may well be that animation is going to be included. However, when AAUK met the Film Fund back in August, we did stress that a one-size shorts strategy for live-action and animation doesn’t work.

Of even more concern is a seeming lack of interest in short form work in general, and animation in particular, as worthwhile in its own cultural right. In this outline Plan there isn’t an indication that BFI intends to support established, short animation making talent and producers.

We hope that, as they develop their plans, that they’ll want further conversations with AAUK and our members, and that we can raise this again.

Animation has hitherto fallen between the respective responsibilities of BFI and Arts Council England and AAUK has lobbied for greater collaboration and joined up thinking between BFI and ACE. The BFI Plan notes that:

partnerships with other Lottery Distributors will be vital to the success of our plans and partnership discussions are already underway with Arts Council England…

Earlier this year, Arts Council England declined our request to discuss our concerns, but in July, ACE Chair Liz Forgan stated that:

Arts Council and BFI are currently in discussion about a potential partnership as work in film, visual art and media crosses over, particularly in animation and documentaries

We understand that BFI and ACE had their first meeting about partnership a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s a summary of the potentially significant opportunities outlined in the Plan:

Development slate funding for production companies (Vision Awards 2). Up to 10 annual awards of 100k and up five annual awards each for two years of £50,000, which producers can use to invest in development personnel, to option material and to commission screenplays. These are for UK production companies, preferably with at least two feature productions to their credit and a viable plan for growth. The Vision Awards will be open to animation studios.

This support is for developing features, and the ‘two features to their credit’ may well disadvantage animation studios with a string of successful shorts, who are already developing feature projects, and who are clearly capable of delivering Vision Awards 2 objects, but aren’t eligible.

Targeted development: to address the challenge of nurturing storytelling and filmmaking skills in some of the more under-developed areas of UK filmmaking such as animation, family and comedy. Including ‘Lab partnerships’ – development ‘labs’ and mentoring programmes, partnering with studios, production companies and/or filmmakers who have enjoyed commercial and creative success in a particular field, with a view to future co-development opportunities. At the launch of the plan, Aardman were named as a skills development partner, and that may be through this programme.

The Film Fund will launch a new programme aimed at nurturing writers and filmmakers working in animation. From an open access call, it will provide funding over two years for three filmmakers or teams (writers, directors, producers and/or designers) to develop their concepts with mentoring from experienced animation producers. As with the development slate funding, this is for features. (It may be that Aardman’s name check was as a mentor for this programme.) Supporting only three filmmakers or teams over two years doesn’t seem a lot. And there’s no indication of what money would be attached.

The Film Fund generally will make approximately 20 major feature production awards per year.

The Film Fund will take a fresh look at the challenges of producing first-class independent animated and family films in the UK, with a view to stimulating the sector at all stages – from early development to production support.

The BFI Certification Unit will “help the Government to put in place the proposed new tax reliefs for highend television production, animation and video games.”

As part of its Access strategy, BFI will work with broadcasters to package material for the widest possible reach and impact: “we will create a curated story of British film, stretching from unknown gems to the greats of British cinema, from propaganda films and the best of British animation..”