Lord Smith of Finsbury
House of Lords
8 September 2011
Dear Lord Smith
Film Policy Review: independent animation
The Animation Alliance UK is a recently formed group of independent animation professionals. It exists as a network and focus for sharing information and discussion, to advocate for the support of independent animation in the UK, and to lobby for investment in production, training and archive.
We appreciate that the main focus of the Film Review is the commercial feature film industry. There are also many urgent issues facing the wider animation industry in the UK. Many our members work in the industry, and we endorse Animation UK’s Save UK Animation campaign around need for subsidies and tax breaks.
There are many different kinds of filmmaking, and many ways to make films, and to get them seen. Animation Alliance UK’s focus is on independent animation as cultural cinema and art form.
We have taken the liberty of writing, rather than completing the consultation questionnaire, because we simply wish to alert you and the Film Policy Review panel to our specific concerns about independent animation in the UK. Our straightforward plea is for an acknowledgement of the importance of cultural animation production to the UK, and a recommendation that steps are taken to ensure its continued success.
In 2003, a previous association of independent animators, the Animation Network, made a similar submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s ‘Is there a British film industry?’ inquiry. That network’s memorandum noted how “Britain has been considered throughout the world as the leading nation in this particular art form”, achieving substantial international success, “picking up awards in festival after festival and films were purchased and screened by major international broadcasters.”
British animated short film has indeed enjoyed an amazing success over 25 years. Over that period, British animators have won the Oscar for animated short film eight times, with a further 20 nominations.
The UK achieved international renown as a prolific centre of excellence for animated short film because of a uniquely British model of sustained public support from public service broadcasters and from public film and arts funding bodies, that allowed creative production free from commercial constraint.
That support has all but evaporated. Ten years ago, both the BBC Animation Unit in Bristol and S4C’s animation unit were closed.
In 2005, in addition to its single film commissions, Channel 4 was supporting around 15 short films a year through its innovative open call schemes, in partnerships with the BFI, Arts Council England and the National Media Museum. All now gone. And whereas those schemes had offered the opportunity to make films with budgets of £20 – 50k, the channel’s last support of independent animation, a strand of the UK Film Council’s Digital Shorts scheme, supported one film each in the regions/nations with budgets of only £10-15k.
The number of British animated films in competition and international film festivals has declined. In 1998, 36 films from the UK were in competition at Annecy, the premier festival and market. This year, there were three films from the UK. Stuttgart Animation Festival selected 13 UK films in 1998; one film (a student film) in 2011. The biannual Hiroshima Animation Festival showed 18 films from the UK in 1998, and just four in 2011.
In 2011, all three films nominated for the Short Animation BAFTA were Royal College of Art graduation films. This is testament to the quality of talent coming out of UK animation schools, but it also an indication that that there is a lack of professionally produced work, and that those graduates in turn will have limited opportunities.
It is not the quality of work that is diminishing. Studios support their directors to make non-commercial work, but the success of films supported this way is despite the lack of public support. And otherwise, films cannot be made. Talent is simply going to waste. Or going elsewhere. UK animators are finding financial support from other places – France, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Australia. And as a consequence, UK talent is relocating to make films in those other countries.
Why it matters
The public value of independent animation is extensive, intrinsic and instrumental. There are many reasons why independent animation merits public support and investment:
Animation has a significant cultural value in its own right.
Digital technology has made animation and its techniques a fundamental component of much feature production.
Animation is culturally pervasive and, in its many forms, the predominant visual form that we engage with.
Independent animation is a site for innovation, risk-taking and the development of new techniques.
Independent production is a test bed for advertising and other creative industries, and for filmmakers and writers who go on to make feature length films and television series.
Animators move in and out of commercial, industry and independent work, fostering creative and technological cross-pollination between sectors – animation, advertising, games, film.
The UK’s reputation for creativity and innovation creates demand for its talent, not least in advertising, and web/digital platform design and content.
The UK’s reputation as a centre for creativity in animation attracts international students to UK animation schools.
Animation is instinctively cross-platform and an integral part of the digital revolution.
Animation is popular. Especially with young people.
Public policy and strategy
Whilst the DCMS has acknowledged that “animation and documentary films are important elements in the British Film industry”, and “creating animation” is one of eligible arts activities in the Taking Part national survey, independent animation is signally unsupported by pubic policy, strategy, and, critically, funding.
UK Film Council failed to address animation’s distinct training, development and production needs; its definition of ‘specialised film’ specified documentary, but excluded animation. Whilst other art forms are sustained and nurtured, Arts Council England has no strategy for animation, defining it as merely a sub art form of the visual arts, and no animation organisation receives core support as part of its new National Portfolio.
UK Film Council and Arts Council England have failed to work together to provide any strategic leadership.
The development of independent animation and the nurturing of its talent base have become dependent on the sector’s own drive and determination, and this is unsustainable.
The Animation Alliance’s membership reflects the range of independent animation, and how it is represented across and between many areas of creative, cultural and commercial activity. Animation is an art form in its own right. Its training, skills, development, process and production are not the same as live action filmmaking and it is not a sub-art form of the visual arts.
This diversity of creative practice, and how animators and animation is part of many different cultural and commercial fields may well, in part, have contributed to failure of either of the lead pubic bodies to effectively address its needs. But it does not excuse their disinterest.
What is needed
Independent animation seems to languish in a chasm between the responsibilities and remit of Arts Council England and UK Film Council/BFI.
Independent animation is a vital part of the UK’s culture and its creative industries. The sums of money that are required to underpin a vibrant independent animation sector are relatively small. Modest investment in the past has delivered incredible value for money in terms of job creation, financial leverage, and the impact on other sub-sectors of the knowledge economy. This can be done with relatively small amounts of money, yet the cultural returns on any investment would be enormous.
To reverse this process of decline we believe that as a first step it is vitally important that the BFI and Arts Council England recognise the role that the independent animation sector plays in British culture.
We would urge your Panel to give due consideration to our concerns, and to raise them with those agencies.
Animation Alliance UK