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David Puttnam

Lord Puttnam's address at the 'FDA 100' Centenary Christmas Party

Lord Puttnam's address at the 'FDA 100' Centenary Christmas Party

10 December, 2015


At 12.30 for 1.00pm on Thursday 10 December 2015

‘5th View’ in Waterstones, 203–205 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE


Good afternoon, everyone, and a very warm welcome.

It’s exactly 100 years to the day since Film Distributors’ Association, of which I’m proud to be President, was born.

Back on the 10th of December 1915, the UK’s ambitious if fledgling distributors formed a dedicated trade body, the Kinematograph Renters’ Society or KRS.

This marked the dawn of organised film distribution, certainly as we would recognise it today – or at least most of the time!

The name was subsequently modernised to ‘Society of Film Distributors’, which in turn morphed into FDA.

It’s a great pleasure to see some legendary figures from the SFD era with us this afternoon – among them the former MD of UIP and SFD President, James Higgins.

Thank you for coming!

As a number of you will recall, FDA’s centenary celebrations kicked off in June with a concert of British film music, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra at a packed Royal Festival Hall.

Later in the summer, an FDA gallery exhibition of film posters, called ‘State of the Art Cinema’, celebrated the links between film, photography and graphic design.

An online hub, Film Scrapbook, was set up especially to collect and share people’s memories on the occasion of the centenary.

And in October we published an analysis of the economic impact of UK film distribution.

FDA commissioned it from Saffery Champness and Nordicity – the first time such a comprehensive report has ever been compiled with a focus on distribution.

Switching focus – today, as well as celebrating the origins of film releasing, I’d like to talk a little about tomorrow’s business.

I have three forward-looking initiatives to very briefly touch upon, which will, I hope, taken together, inspire future generations and turn our centennial celebrations into a lasting legacy.

Firstly,   I’m delighted that we are today launching a generic guide to film distribution for secondary school teachers and their digital-native students aged 14 and over.

Via a new wall-chart, and a website full of data and video content, the guide spans 100 years of media innovations, coming bang up to date with an interactive exploration of the way in which trailers motivate audiences.

I very much hope this free guide will enjoy a long shelf life as a teaching resource in schools and colleges across the country.

Secondly:  It’s a great pleasure to be able to announce a new internship programme for UK film distribution.

As you may know, a pilot scheme ran this year – a partnership between FDA, Film Export UK, the ICO and Creative Skillset – with such success that more than half of its participants have already secured on-going positions in the film business.

I’m thrilled that the scheme I launched just over a year ago – including an ‘FDA Richard Attenborough Scholarship’ to support placements for two young people based outside London – has borne such immediate fruit.

I can only offer my congratulations to all concerned, and hope the 2016 version of the programme is a similar success.

Lastly:  Today we also celebrate the publication of a new book.

And a long overdue book, at that.

I couldn’t be happier that it’s being born today of all days, and celebrated at this very particular occasion.

As you’ll know by now, its title is ‘Delivering Dreams’.

It’s been written with deep knowledge, and matching affection, by Geoffrey Macnab, and is published in paperback and e-book forms by I. B. Tauris.

We’ll hear from both of them in just a moment.

The thoroughly researched, highly accessible text traces the story of British film distribution from its origins as a stand-alone business right through to today’s rapidly shifting digital operations.

There’ll be a complimentary copy for each of you a little later on, as part of your Christmas present, and I very much hope you’ll enjoy not just reading it yourself, but perhaps recommending it to others.

I’m reliably informed that, although there’s been an unexpected level of interest in the global film rights in all media, nothing has yet been concluded, so if you’re interested, please see me a little later!

Delivering Dreams makes the point that distributors are, and always have been, the ‘unsung heroes’ of the film and cinema industry.

Without them, the entire ‘value chain’ would simply grind to a halt – policy makers please take note.

But given the sheer volume of digital content now available, every instinct tells me that the business of film releasing has never been tougher than it is today.

It’s thrilling, of course, that the fourth-quarter box-office is matching the very best of our expectations.

The October to December period should generate around 50 million cinema visits – truly a Force Awakened.

No one is happier than I am when Britain goes back to the movies.

Nevertheless, the fact that top-line box-office receipts, collected by cinema operators, are looking so healthy should not completely mask the fierce challenges that film distributors continue to face in making it all happen.

I know that FDA, and indeed the whole sector, has a very busy agenda of UK and EU policy matters to gets its teeth into in the New Year.

But this is neither the occasion nor the moment to expand on those debates.

Yet the issues surrounding the European digital single market are so fundamental that I do want to comment, albeit very briefly, as FDA President, on yesterday’s publication of a new European Commission paper on copyright, and a draft regulation on portability of digital services.

There is a great deal in both these communications that I believe we can welcome – a number of measured and fair principles that we can be comfortable in signing up to.

But it’s important to stress that any changes must be based on sound evidence, not merely assertion.

And as far as film is concerned, the retention of flexible territorial licensing, to ensure plurality of choice for European citizens within a digital single market, is not merely justified, it’s essential.

Back to today – please enjoy the party to the full, because I’d like us to kick off the second century of film distribution in memorably fine style.

May I take this opportunity to wish you and your families a very merry Christmas – although Lord only knows where this last year went!

Thank you very much for listening to me – and let’s raise our glasses to the successful launch of ‘Delivering Dreams’ and to FDA’s 100th birthday!