THE WOMEN BEHIND THE BRITISH FILM INDUSTRY; between Them, BBC Films' Christine Langan, C4's Tessa Ross and UK Film Council's Tanya Seghatchian Can Lay Some Claim to 33 of the Nominations for Sunday's Baftas. Does This Mean That Talent Spotting and Nurturing Is Women's Work, Nick Curtis Asks Them

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

THE WOMEN BEHIND THE BRITISH FILM INDUSTRY; between Them, BBC Films' Christine Langan, C4's Tessa Ross and UK Film Council's Tanya Seghatchian Can Lay Some Claim to 33 of the Nominations for Sunday's Baftas. Does This Mean That Talent Spotting and Nurturing Is Women's Work, Nick Curtis Asks Them


Byline: Nick Curtis

MOST of the superb British movies vying for one of this Sunday's Baftas -- An Education, In the Loop, Fish Tank, Nowhere Boy -- owe their genesis to BBC Films, Film4 and the UK Film Council. This year, for the first time, three women will be in charge of film funding at these three organisations, which allocate a total of almost [pounds sterling]35 million of public money a year to home-grown cinema.

Tessa Ross, 48-year-old head of drama and film at Channel 4, may have seen her budget cut from [pounds sterling]10 million to [pounds sterling]7.5 million last year but is still regarded as the godmother of British movies. Two of Ross's protegees have achieved similarly powerful positions in the industry. In April, Tanya Seghatchian, 41, takes over the UK Film Council's new, unified [pounds sterling]15 million film fund of lottery money. With the might of Britain's biggest broadcaster behind her and a [pounds sterling]12 million budget, Christine Langan -- who took over as creative director of BBC Films last year after the birth of her second child -- has comparable clout.

All three women rose through TV drama and documentary, and all have a proven track record, based on long relationships with film-makers. Ross has backed Danny Boyle and Shane Meadows, while Langan mustered the team behind The Queen and The Deal. Seghatchian delivered the Harry Potter franchise to producer David Heyman, and independently produced My Summer of Love, which made Emily Blunt a star.

"An online report the other day said I only had [pounds sterling]10 million compared to Tanya's [pounds sterling]15 million," harrumphs Langan, 45. "It was all very sizeist. 'Who's got the biggest fund?!?' Did a man write that?" Langan is annoyed that gender remains an issue in the still-sexist world of film (and journalism). "If we were three men it wouldn't be noticed, or commented on. Part of me thinks we should just get over it. But then, another part of me wonders if there is something genderspecific about the job the three of us do. It's a nurturing role, there's a lot of talent-development and team-building.

That's probably where women have strengths."

Ross has no problem with her maternal image in the industry, seeing her close relationship with film-makers as indivisible from her home life as a mother of three. Beyond that, the women's shared gender has no relevance although "it may mean we put more energy into Sunday night at the Baftas". Seghatchian says she hopes their prominence will inspire other women to aspire to executive jobs in British film.

Whether it's down to gender or not, the three have an easy, collegiate relationship.

Langan and Seghatchian have each worked for Ross in the past, and all of them work closely together now.

"You won't find a lot of dissent in the industry," says Ross. They are proud of this year's Bafta roster across the board. "I think we did a good job this year," says Seghatchian, singling out the stellar but very different breakout performances of Carey Mulligan in An Education and Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank. Ross lavishes praise on the care the BBC took over An Education.

Langan, with a record 13 nominations for BBC Films, says awards can "give a bit of welly" to the potential audience for a small film like Fish Tank and enhance its eventual TV transmission, which is part of her remit, and Ross's. She also points out that few past award-winners, such as Slumdog Millionaire and Billy Elliot (both produced by Ross) or even The Full Monty, "looked like guaranteed slam-dunks on paper". All three women emphasise the need to continue funding what Ross calls "difficult, odd, different films" in the face of decreased external investment caused by the recession. …

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