Interview: Mamoun Hassan
A shining example

By David Robinson – Published 18 September, 1984 – The Times

Mamoun Hassan announced his resignation as managing director of the National Film Finance Corporation before the Government White Paper’s proposals for re-organising the Corporation; but it is unlikely his decision would have been altered. The declared aim of privatisation hardly seems achieved by the changes. Before, the NFFC derived its income from a levy on cinema admissions – the Eady Fund. Now the Government will put up £ 1.5m and a consortium of private investors will contribute £1.1m.

“I know what quangos are and how they work”, says Hassan. “And I know what companies are and how they work. But how will this mixture work? The most we can hope for is that the new arrangement will work as well as the old one. What the NFFC needs most is independence and vim.”

Certainly Hassan’s five and a half years at the Corporation have been characterised by independence and vim. His enthusiasm, pugnacity, taste and passionate championing of an indigenous cinema have made him a significant figure in the progressive areas of British cinema.

He has declined to publish reasons for his decision to go, but it is not hard to guess at some of them. The only small corner of official subsidy for the cinema that this country possesses, the National Film Finance Corporation is certainly in comparison with support for cinema in other European countries-derisively underfunded. Throughout most of Hassan’s period of management, the Corporation has continued in face of interminable and inconclusive Government reviews.

”It restricts your style”, says Hassan. “You can’t follow through if you don’t know whether you’re planning for today or the day after.”

Hassan has more altruistic reasons for his decision than mere frustration at dealing with the Department, of Trade and Industry, under whose aegis the NFFC exists. “I believe that, when one is operating within the public sector with a film production body, one should involve one’s commitment totally. Inevitably this is going to exclude some people – and for this reason alone it is important to move on.”

The decisions of the corporation are made finally by a board; but it is inevitable that the tastes and opinions of the managing director, as the only full-time executive on the board, carry a lot of weight. It has been no secret that Hassan and his board have not always had an easy time together.

One major issue between them has been how to test the Britishness of the projects supported by the Corporation. The majority view was that the Corporation should not invest in films by foreign directors, and on this score Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Skolimowski’s Moonlighting and James Ivory’s Heat and Dust were all turned down. That minority which supported these films had argued that they were in large part made by British artists and technicians, and were all concerned with British relationships with other peoples.

The major problem of the National Film finance Corporation, says Hassan, is always “to reconcile a commercial mandate and a cultural policy’‘. Hassan’s period at the Corporation can show a commendable record both on the commercial and cultural fronts. True, at least three of the eight feature productions made during his time will probably never see their costs back, and three more are recouping only slowly, but Gregory’s Girl has shown a handsome profit and Another County promises to perform very well.

Many of the Corporation’s own dilemmas, he feels, are those of the British cinema as a whole.

”I think Chariots of Fire and Gandhi have made success too central an issue. They have shifted the emphasis from what we are doing and where we are going to whether or not we will be successful in commercial terms … At the moment we have a cinema with a present, but no clear future in terms of a cultural identity,”

After the NFFC Hassan (like the future Corporation itself) will sample both the public and the private sides of film production. He is off to Australia to prepare an independent review for the Australian film commission; after that he will work for a private company, producing Alan Bleasdale’s first film script.