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UK Should Export More Films to China and Brazil, Says BFI Chief

Huw D Jones reports on the Westminister Media Forum: Next Steps for the UK film industry, held at the Caledonian Club, London, July 17, 2014.

China and Brazil should be priority markets for British film exports, BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill told an industry gathering in London on July 17.

Nevill acknowledged some within the film industry remained skeptical about the BFI’s international strategy, but pointed to research that found that – alongside the US – China and Brazil would yield the greatest economic gains in the medium to long term.

“India in theory could be a huge export market, but our ability to influence policy there or the likelihood that that country would get its head round piracy was unlikely, whereas with China we knew this was an opportunity,” she said.

According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, China’s gross box office has grown by 55.5% over the last five years to US$ 3.54 billion, making China the world’s second highest cinema audience. Earlier this year, the UK – which currently has a 6.1% share of the Asian market – signed a co-production treaty with the People’s Republic in order to access a bigger share of this growing market.

The conference also heard from Lord Smith, the former Culture Secretary and the chair of the 2012 Film Policy Review, who said that film exports would be a “big challenge” for the UK film industry over next few years. He suggested there was a role for BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, in promoting British independent films internationally.

A recurring theme throughout the half-day event was that smaller, independent production companies were not benefiting from the recent boom in inward investment from US studios. According to figures from the BFI, the UK spend on inward investment films was £629.8m in 2012 – 68% of total production – compared with £225.7m for domestic features.

Martin Smith from Ingenious Media warned about the UK film industry becoming too dependent on US money, arguing that inward investment is vulnerable to currency fluctuations. He said there must be more investment in business skills and talent, a point echoed by Adrian Wooton from the British Film Commission. Martin Spence from the entertainment union BECTU likewise called for more infrastructure investment in order to create a sustainable industry.

Neville said that smaller budget films were essential to incubating talent, though added that there was an oversupply for movies for the size of the market. She pointed to new online platforms like Curzon’s Home Cinema and the BFI Player in terms of helping the distribution of independent British film.

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