Jay Hunt Apple

There has been a mixed reaction to the appointment of Jay HuntApple TV+ European creative director, as the next chair of the British Film Institute (BFI), at a time when the independent UK film community is grappling with acute challenges, from a dampening of production funding options to soaring costs impacting both filmmaking and exhibition.

Calls for the introduction of a levy of some kind on the US streamers to invest in the homegrown independent sector have been growing louder due to the disruption effected by the platforms on the availability and cost of local talent, crew and studio space, the impact on producers’ intellectual property [IP] rights and the migration of audiences from cinemas to platforms.

Now some – all speaking on the condition of anonymity – are questioning what Hunt’s appointment will mean for the lobbying efforts of the country’s lead body for film. 

“This appointment will only cement the relationship between the streamers and the BFI,” suggested one independent producer.

Hunt has strong credentials in public service media, having been the only person in UK history to run the creative output of three terrestrial broadcast channels: BBC One, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Through her position at US streamer Apple TV+, she has overseen a robust slate of UK projects, including Gary Oldman-led spy thriller series Slow Horses and comedy show Ted Lasso.

Previous TV figures who have held the role include BBC director general Greg Dyke and Joan Bakewell, a TV and radio presenter. Previous BFI chairs on the film side include Anthony Minghella and Richard Attenborough.

The chair is appointed by the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

“It’s a shame they haven’t been able to find a filmmaker to be the chair, but I guess the independent sector is so impoverished that there isn’t really anyone who has risen to the surface,” said one producer. “A leading producer or director would make sense because they directly understand the issues of the film world. 

“My questions to Jay would be: have you ever had BFI membership? And when did you last visit the BFI Southbank as a plain punter to watch a movie?”

However, they also noted, “An effective chair should have a strong voice to lobby government at a high level and Jay will have that.”

One senior industry figure said they were concerned by Hunt’s role at a major US corporation. “It’s a shame you can’t find an industry chair from someone not just with their own skills, but what they represent having a strong UK basis.”

They went further: “If you’re chair of an organisation that is leading on film policy, and given the big question around streamer levies that is in the air, that to me is a conflict of interest.”

It is not the first time a BFI chair has come from a US corporate background. Josh Berger, then-president and managing director of Warner Bros Entertainment UK, Ireland and Spain, served as chair of the BFI from 2016 to 2020.

Hunt has been a BFI governor since 2020, and LA-based Scott Stuber, head of global films at Netflix, also sits on the BFI board, alongside UK industry figures such as Andrew Smith, corporate affairs director at Pinewood Studios, filmmaker Edgar Wright and Number 9 Films’ producer Elizabeth Karlsen.

Optimism

John McVay, chief executive of producers’ trade association Pact, welcomed Hunt’s track record in UK public service media.

“We’re currently campaigning to try to get the government to do more to support the indigenous film industry,” he said. “Clearly inward investment has been a galloping success. Slow Horses is the number one show on Apple. That’s all brilliant. In the excitement historically about inward investment, which is a good thing, people tend to forget our domestic industry since 2017 has been in decline.

“Jay comes in at a good point. Film culture is one thing, filmmaking is entirely another. Everyone agrees something needs to be done. The BFI will have a role in that – it can’t do everything, that’s impossible. I look forward to meeting with her to talk about that.

Slow_Horses_020106_Credit Apple

Slow Horses is indigenous craft and skills, that’s indigenous talent,” McVay added. “A lot of that talent might have started on indie film. She’ll get that – she’s spent her whole life working in the British creative community.”

McVay rejected concerns that Hunt’s appointment will have any impact on future conversations around a streamer levy being introduced in the UK to help reinvest money back into independent production – because in his opinion, the streamer levy is a damp squib.

“The streamer levy ain’t going to happen in the UK,” he said. “I don’t think any government or potential government is talking about that.”

What does the BFI chair do?

The chair of the BFI is appointed by the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and ratified by culture secretary Lucy Frazer. It is a two day a month voluntary position. According to the position’s advert: “The selected Board Chair will be expected to work alongside the CEO in delivering the vision set out in the [BFI 10-year strategy] Screen Culture 2033, to support the next chapter of British film and the continued success of the screen sectors.”

The chair’s further roles and requirements include:

  • Ensuring that the board operates within its charitable objectives, and provides clear strategic, economic, and cultural direction for the BFI
  • Approving the BFI’s annual budget and material business decisions
  • Acting as an ambassador for the organisation
  • Maintaining close relationships with the government and with key influencers
  • Developing, managing and nurturing relationships and communicating with partners and other stakeholders, both across the UK and internationally
  • In collaboration with the chief executive, generating substantial annual revenue, fostering the BFI’s overall financial health, and ensuring the financial resilience of the organisation
  • Conducting an annual appraisal and remuneration review for the chief executive as chair of the remuneration committee





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