Thirty-six-year-old Ben Roberts has been tapped as the director of the British Film Institute Film Fund, creating what some are calling a film ‘czar’ for the UK. Though the lottery-fueled fund isn’t particularly big at £21 million (US$33 million), it can be a real difference maker for modestly budgeted, home-grown British projects. Recent critical favorites “The Iron Lady” and “The King’s Speech” were both financed in part by the fund, which formerly fell under the purview of the UK Film Council.
It was the controversial closing of the Film Council last year that generated talk of creating a film czar position of sorts. The council was shut down amidst complaints that the staff was too costly to maintain on a budget and that many of the financed films never paid back their loans to the fund. The BFI will now finance all aspects of a project – development, production, distribution and exhibition – out of the same fund for the first time. Previously funding had been split into divisions, which may have impacted oversight.
Roberts is currently CEO of Protagonist Pictures, a financing organization representing British films in the international market place. Since 2007 he has overseen a range of releases, including Deep Blue Sea, Streetdance 3D and In the Loop. He has 15 years of film industry experience across international sales, studio acquisitions, UK distribution and film finance.
“Ben’s commitment and enthusiasm for UK film is infectious and his track record in finding audiences for new British film voices is impressive,” said Amanda Nevill, Chief Executive of the BFI. “We and the wider industry look forward to working with him to help build further on the current success of British film at home and abroad.”
“This new role offers me the special opportunity to support talented British filmmakers in achieving their potential to make great and memorable films,” said Roberts of the appointment. “It also means I can play my part in leading the development of a more joined-up approach to public investment in film in the UK by overseeing all of the BFI’s Lottery Film Fund investments – including distribution and exhibition – to better connect films with their audiences.”