Trade bodies Directors UK and the Film Distributors’ Association have joined the chorus of criticism for the government’s “catastrophic” decision to axe the Film Council, which appears to have come out of the blue.

Director Roger Michell, whose credits include BBC series The Buddha of Suburbia, BBC-backed movie The Mother and Film 4’s Enduring Love, said: “This is an astonishing decision by government – without the merest hint of consultation with either the wider film industry or the UK film council itself. The decision flies in the face of economic sense.”

“This is a catastrophic announcement for the film and the broader creative sector. We should not forget that film is an industry and one in which the UK excels both at home and abroad. We employ 36,000 people and contributed over £4.5 billion to GDP in 2009.”

Directors UK highlighted concern that beyond promising some continuation of Lottery funding, the government made no announcement of any provision for ensuring the Council’s work continues.

Michell added: “The UK Film Council forged a coherent and consistent framework for our industry, providing some measure of stability and distributing a vital, if modest, revenue stream via the Production Fund. It is crucial that this fund continues to feed a thriving industry in a challenging economic climate.”

Lord Puttnam, president of the Film Distributors’ Association, said the “out of the blue” announcement would “take some time to digest fully.”

He added: “The Film Council has been a layer of strategic glue that’s helped bind the many parts of our disparate industry together. It is sure to be widely missed, not least because the UK cinema industry is in the midst of a fundamental transformation at the heart of which is digital roll-out. On the welcome premise that Government and Lottery support for film will continue, I look forward to discussing ways in which a new, coherent plan for film can be developed and implemented to benefit audiences throughout the UK.”

Meanwhile, Channel 4 said in a statement: “Whilst we are of course acutely aware of the financial circumstances that have led to this decision, Channel 4 is very saddened for its colleagues at the UKFC who have done a tremendous job of supporting and nurturing British Film. For its part Channel 4 remains absolutely committed to fulfilling its remit to invest in British film-making through Film 4.”

Jane Wright, Managing Director & Executive Director at BBC Films, told Screen International: “I found the news deeply shocking. It really did come out of the blue. I don’t fully understand, even with the missives that have gone out, what this exactly means for the range of activities which the Film Council did.”

Meanwhile, former BBC Films head David Thompson, who now runs film indie Origin Pictures, described it as “a chronic blow to the fortunes of filmmakers and film production in this country.”

Pact’s response was more sympathetic to the government’s decision and acknowledged that the Council was created in 2000, when public sector spending was more generous.

Chief executive John McVay said: “We strongly welcome the coalition’s commitment to the two most important interventions in the market, namely the National Lottery funding and the film tax credit. These both ensure that we can produce indigenous feature films and also attract inward investment which, combined, sustain our vibrant, dynamic and successful film industry and we look forward to working with the government as they develop their thinking on how this essential public support will be delivered in future.”

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the Council’s funds in recent times were Film 4 releases Nowhere Boy (£1.24m) [pictured] and The Proposition (£1.7m) and the BBC’s Bend it Like Beckham (£945,043).

Armando Iannucci, whose BBC film In the Loop benefited from £563,825 of Council money, tweeted: “Mad move by macho numbercrunchers. It made UK a gargantuan load of money. They’re wangpots.”