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by Peter Knegt
October 18, 2009 11:14 AM
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British PM Champions New Film Center; Dedicates It To Minghella

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (left), Amanda Nevill, BFI Director and Greg Dyke, BFI Chair at the London Film Festival last week. Photo courtesy of Ted Williams/O Production.

Friday evening, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made his way to the Times-BFI London Film Festival to help announce "a dramatic transformation" of the British Film Institute via a new film center that Brown's government will pledge 45 million pounds toward. There had been fears that the project, backed by the British Film Institute for many years, would be the victim of the cutbacks from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. But Brown made it clear this will not be the case.

"Can I say how pleased I am to be at the London Film Festival this week as we celebrate our world leading British film industry," Brown said at a press conference at the BFI's current center on London's South Bank. "And to be here to launch what I think is the next stage of British film, with this partnership between government and the British film industry to build a new British national film center here that will provide a new home for film that will be constructed over the next five years here on the South Bank. I want to announce today that the British government will provide 45 million pounds in new funding to help bring this dream live."

After a resounding round of cheers from the audience of mostly government officials and film industry types, Brown poignantly dedicated the center to the recently deceased British director Anthony Minghella.

"I believe that everyone here tonight knows that there was one man that fought harder for this industry than anyone," Brown said. "A man who dedicated his life to creative expression, and for whom a new home for British film remained a lifelong goal. I want us to show our respects to my good friend and yours, Anthony Minghella... He lit up our lives, he was at the center of the film industry, and he wanted a showcase for British talent and for British creativity. And we owe more to him in this than any other single individual."

The BFI's ambition with the new building is to create "a world-leading centre for the study, enjoyment and celebration of film and television." The money Brown notes the British Government will pledge follows an earlier investment promise of 5 million pounds in the project from the London Mayor. It secures the next phase of the project which is to design and plan, and will go towards helping fund the construction of the new centre which is to be developed on the current site of Hungerford car park near the London Eye.

Construction is expected to be completed on the project by 2015. The BFI has suggested some of the buildings facilities would include five cinemas, with one auditorium large enough to host events currently limited to the Odeon Leicester Square (which is where the London Film Festival had its opening gala this past Wednesday night).

"We will be creating something that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world, precisely because we can," Amanda Nevill, director of the BFI, said in a statement. "It will build on the BFI's 75 year legacy, bringing together the greatest collections of film on earth with all the excitement and stimulation of emerging cinema into the most creative and inclusive programmes. It will be a digital hub, working with partners across the UK to share and exchange those programmes. We are a step closer in our ambition to inspire and excite audiences everywhere in a new digital Britain."

Although the center will be based in London, the BFI insisted it will be "emphatically national." It will exchange programs and knowledge with a wide range of communities and partners right across the UK, constantly drawing on and updating the BFI National Archive, the regional archives and the expanding Mediatheque network.

Brown concluded the press conference by passionately applauding his country and its film industry.

"Britain is a great, great country and we're proving it again this week," Brown said. "You can feel it when you visit our museums, our galleries and our theaters. You can hear it our music and you listen to our world class radio. You can see it when you watch some of the best of British films. Only on Wednesday Bill Murray, who provided a voice in 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' the movie that opened this year's festival, said this film could not have been made anywhere in world except in London. He said that he when he visited Three Mills Studios in East London, he had never been in a room filled with so much talent in his life. And that is a tribute to the British film industry today. So despite very tough times, this is a great era for homegrown British film."

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