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Sir Richard Pleads the Case of British Film

SIR Richard Attenborough, Oscar-winning director of ``Gandhi'' and more recently, the director of ``Cry Freedom,'' is talking rather desperately about film. British film. ``You see, the British industry in production terms is as low as it has ever been. We had a certain number of fiscal incentives [capital allowances and a special fund].... The present government ended both of those years ago. And the present government suggested that there might be some replacement...,'' says Sir Richard as vice president of The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

``Indeed, I went to see Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street and she, when she was Prime Minister, said she would do something about it. In fact nothing has happened. What we have had so far has been derisory.... I mean we've been given 5 million [$8.65 million] over four years. You can imagine how many movies that will make.'' (An average American film now costs triple that, about $26 million.) Because those investment incentives are gone, nobody is investing in movies in Britain. Sir Richard says that in addition, American investment has been affected - investment ``on [which] the British film industry's health depended to an incredible extent.'' Ninety percent of any movies that are made in Britain for a world market, he says, ``potentially are transferred to America.''

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That's why he was in the US with the Queen on a royal visit to Washington, where BAFTA and the Library of Congress held ``The Great British Picture Show,'' a festival of British film and television which screened l00 British favorites and premi`eres. The entries, which included tributes to directors Sir David Lean (``Lawrence of Arabia'') and Michael Powell (``The Red Shoes'') ranged from Jim Sheridan's film ``The Field'' to the ``Inspector Morse'' TV series.

Sir Richard, who has cobalt blue eyes and wore a matching tie, discussed the plight of British films. In fact, financing for British films is so tight that his plans for a new movie on Charlie Chaplin have felt the pinch.

The director of ``Oh, What a Lovely War'' says that the royal family has always been involved in BAFTA: Prince Philip founded it, Earl Mountbatten became the second president, and HRH the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) is the current president.

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