Bond and Potter under fire for cinema monopoly

Story by Jack Foley

 

AS JAMES Bond prepares to shake his first Martini and Harry Potter bids to cast his spell over cinema-goers once more, the blockbuster duo have been forced to fend off criticisms from independent film-makers as the debate over the state of the British film industry intensifies.

Leslee Udwin, producer of British comedy, East is East, has accused the money-spinners of monopolising the UK Box Office and has called on the government to introduce quotas to allow smaller films to get a look in.

Her comments, made in an interview with BBC News Online, come just weeks before Warner Bros release Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on November 15, and Twentieth Century Fox release Die Another Day on November 20 - films which are expected to take up at least half of all screens across the country over the coming weeks.

With Peter Jackson’s eagerly-anticipated Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers following on December 18, there is mounting concern that few other films will be able to make any sort of impression - particularly as tickets for the ‘big three’ went on sale some seven weeks ago.

According to Ms Udwin, 007, Potter and co have ‘voraciously eaten up’ all our screens, frustrating anyone else seeking to release a film at the end of the year.

The comments arrive just 24 hours after British Film Council chairman, Sir Alan Parker, announced radical proposals for revitalising the industry, aimed at securing its future.

Currently, more than half of British films made are never shown in a cinema, while in 2000, American films took more than 61 per cent of the UK box office - with home grown films taking a paltry four per cent.

Sir Alan, himself, confessed that while he currently had a film nearing completion, he would not want to risk releasing it at this time of year.

Distributors and cinema chains, however, are rubbing their hands at the prospect of a Box Office goldmine this Christmas, as the big three go head-to-head for end-of-year supremacy. If all three prove as successful as the studios anticipate, they could take up 1,000 screens each, leaving around 100 other screens, across the whole of the UK, to showcase other productions.

This is in contrast to the last Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, which was shown at between 500 and 600 screens nationwide during the peak of its popularity.

Mark Batey, chief executive of the Film Distributors’ Association, played down the concerns, however, by insisting that it takes more than one blockbuster to drive cinema-going across the country.

He added that there was a ‘diverse collection’ of films being released between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, including Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American (with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser) and Deathwatch (featuring Billy Elliott’s Jamie Bell).

But endorsing comments made by Sir Alan, that quality British films should be promoted and screened more widely in a bid to ensure more success for them, Ms Udwin maintained that if such a production was intending to come out during this period, they would not be able to find enough screens.

She pointed towards French cinema as an example of how to protect home-based films using quotas, even though Mr Batey pointed out that forcing cinemas to show films that their customers may not wish to see would be difficult.

The cause of the independents will not be helped, either, by the fact that two of the three films - Bond and Harry Potter - involve significant British investment and craftsmanship, while Lord of the Rings also features a strong Brit element, including Sir Ian McKellen in the role of Gandalf.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has refrained from entering the debate, other than to confirm that the government has no plans to introduce quotas and to say that it will be discussing how best to service the film industry’s needs when it meets with the Film Council in due course.

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