BFI Opens $66 Million Filmmaking Fund

The U.K.’s new BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund, the latest iteration of its Film Fund, is now open.

The fund has £36.6 million ($44.8 million) available over three years for fiction feature films and a further £17.4 million ($21.3 million) to support documentary, shorts, talent development and immersive projects.

The fiction feature funding will be available through four focused funds: Development; Creative Challenge – funding labs; Discovery – backing debuts; and Impact – for second features and beyond. All funding decisions will be guided by new fund priorities.

Revised fund priorities see an increased focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, the introduction of audience impact and environmental sustainability, alongside talent development and progression, creative risk taking and U.K.-wide reach.

There is also a shift in focus to back features that develop the reach of U.K. writers and/or directors and have significant U.K. cultural and audience impact. In addition, there is a new target for applications from production companies who have not received BFI National Lottery funding in the past. There will also be increased attention on the U.K.-wide benefit of funding in terms of where funded filmmaking teams are based, representation of place, location of production activity and the potential for local audience impact, with new fund specific targets introduced: 60% of teams and 55% of productions based outside London and the U.K.’s southeast.

Some £29.4 million of production funding is now available via two new funding streams. The BFI Discovery Fund is dedicated to directorial debuts, for features budgeted below £3.5 million. Aiming to support six features per year, funding will be available across three application rounds annually. The first deadline for applications is April 24 for fully-developed projects seeking to shoot this year. Applications will then reopen in July and again in November.

The BFI Impact Fund will aim to support five projects with production funding per year for features from second-time filmmakers and beyond or debuts budgeted over £3.5 million. A rolling fund, criteria focuses on scale and/or intensity of audience impact projects are seeking to make.

The £4.5 million BFI Development Fund aims to support some 60-70 projects per year. Additional project development support will be available through the £2.7 million BFI National Lottery Creative Challenge Fund, a fourth new fund opening later in 2023, which will fund labs and development programs in order to decentralise project development and ensure support is accessible U.K.-wide.

All projects supported through the BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund will need to achieve the BFI diversity standards for film. To address access barriers for filmmakers, cast and crew with support requirements relating to a disability or physical or mental health diagnosis, applicants will be encouraged to include relevant costs in their budgets.

The BFI said it would continue to use its role as a financier to actively address underrepresentation in supported feature films, requiring commitments to inclusion and fostering a positive working culture. All projects can request additional BFI National Lottery funding to access support in two specific areas: to fund a wellbeing facilitator, and to support talented crew from underrepresented groups to progress their careers by taking on more senior roles, including heads of department, via the BFI Step Up initiative.

Mia Bays, director of the BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund, told Variety that the conscious decision to widen the fund’s geographic footprint beyond the already well-served London and southeastern regions is to ensure “fair access.”

“It’s public funding, so it’s really incredibly important that we are as benefiting as wide a reach in the industry and the public as possible,” Bays said. “It’s not like we can say X percent of the funding needs to go to Scotland and Y goes to Wales, if the projects aren’t there, then there’s not much we can do about it. It’s inspiring people to collaborate, and to just think more about the whole of the U.K., and to think more carefully about how you’re putting your team together, and how you’re telling your story and where you’re telling your story. And that the economic and cultural impact is shared more widely.”

Meanwhile, the BFI funding team is transitioning to a new structure with three of Bay’s senior executives due to step down later this year.

This iteration of the fund is part of the BFI’s 10-year Screen Culture 2033 strategy. In the U.K., 2.7% of available proceeds from the national lottery is used to fund films via the BFI. Over the years, lottery-funded films have won 14 Oscars and 32 BAFTAs.

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