Lord Smith's review of the film industry was more than welcome but it didn't go far enough

For an ex-film student whose career path has veered away into politics a Government commissioned independent review of the film industry brings a nerdy excitement, so you’ll be surprised that I have taken so long to mention Lord Smith’s review that was published five weeks ago – you’re quite right, this is a blog post well overdue.

Cutting straight to the chase I give Lord Smith’s review a score of 8/10. It makes all the right noises and could improve the British film industry but it lacks the radical edge I (always) would like to see. Amongst the 56 recommendations for Government there are plenty of great ideas:

Tightening the laws around videoing a film in the cinema

I thought this was a trivial offence until I read that 90% of pre-DVD release piracy is carried out this way, apparently the current legislation requires proof of intent to distribute the recording – the review recommends making it a simple offence to record. Seems a sensible proposal to me.

Broaden access to films in remote and rural areas by providing equipment and facilities to local film societies and community halls

A nice proposal and fits with my instinct that we should be reinvigorating village halls by making them hubs for a range of cultural activities. If Cameron is serious about the Big Society he should take this forward alongside support for parish councils to put on a year-round programme of entertainment.

An annual ‘British Film Week’ and a nationwide film festival

‘British Film Week’ is a fairly airy fairy proposal but if its combined with a nationwide film festival and embraced by the industry it could see a real celebration of classic and new British filmmaking on television and in cinemas. I’d like to see this ‘British Film Week’ scheduled in the week leading up the BAFTAs to help encourage big stars from here and Hollywood to come to the UK early in the lead-up to the awards to join in and highlight the celebrations. We could also consider shifting the London Film Festival to coincide with it.

Better coordinated film education

This recommendation was hyped up by the media as ‘calls for film education in every school’ when it is in fact a call for the BFI to have a comprehensive set of film education resources available for teachers. With Darren Henley’s review of Cultural Education due out this week and likely to recommend increased film education in schools and with the National Curriculum Review on-going there is the distinct possibility that learning about film will no longer be an opportunity confined to those who study at schools offering A-level Film Studies.

We need to be teaching young people about film in the same way we do about literature and we also need to be using film (both fiction and documentary) in class to help aid understanding of other subjects such as history. Likewise with increasingly cheap basic film and editing equipment we should be encouraging young people to produce their own short films just as we require children to write stories in English, encouraging experimental audio-visuals in art classes or as group-made documentary presentations for other subjects like geography or science.

A ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with major broadcasters

Possibly the most radical element of the report, this was a swipe at ITV and Sky for not investing in making or buying rights to broadcast British films and states that if Government can’t improve things by polite coercion it should legislate to put requirements on a minimum level of investment into licensing agreements.

This is so important, Film4 is one of Britain’s biggest producers and BBC Films is another vital source of co-finance for filmmakers in this country yet ITV and particularly Sky simply don’t pull their weight. Mr Murdoch is hardly at his popular right now; it’s the perfect time to be demanding that Sky contributes to the future of British cinema for cultural and economic reasons.

So all good news but here’s two further steps I’d like to see on top of these initiatives:

Reduce bureaucracy 

A slashing of red tape and deregulation might not be common on this blog but I’m as adverse to unnecessary rules and paperwork as your blue-blooded Tory – the difference is often our interpretation of ‘unnecessary’.

No-budget student filmmakers and low-budget productions are the entrepreneurial start-ups of the film industry and just as Government’s want to encourage new small businesses by reducing the regulatory burden of starting one up we shouldn’t be getting in the way of budding filmmakers. We need to reduce the cost to low budget productions of filming in public spaces both in terms of the fees requested by councils and the time burden of requesting licenses. Countless other regulations could be eased without making productions unsafe.

Distribution

The Review has some worthy ideas on improving distribution for British films but really goes nowhere near the radical step required to break the stranglehold on multiplex screens that the dominating Hollywood distributors have currently. We need a big British rival distributor paying the way for British films to get into cinemas and advertising them alongside the Hollywood productions – we could do this by giving BBC Films a distribution arm. We know British films can be a success at the box office – 2011 was a tremendous year and The Woman in Black sits atop box office charts this week – only be getting smaller British films to a wider audience will we ever start to bring in the serious cash that will allow more regular ‘blockbuster’ productions to be funded and produced in the UK.

We have serious film making talent in this country, the Lord Smith Review takes a lot of wise steps towards improving our respect for British film heritage with more film education, continuing to develop our highly skilled workforce and improving investment in British film but ultimately until we make it easier to make films in the first place and then ensure those films can compete for audience share with the Hollywood pictures then we will never fully utilise the enormous potential for our film industry. With the Government desperate for growth it must recognise the potential for growth to come from film, an industry which creates jobs for all kinds of workers (builders, electricians, catering as well as actors, editors and on-set technical crew). They must be bold in embracing the film industry and taking radical steps to support this growth, even if creating a state distributor rankles with their ideology.