Amanda Nevill’s letter

The full text of Amanda Nevill’s letter, circulated yesterday and again today, appears below. If you can get past the litany of ‘really, really stunning’ achievements, the really, really cunning part appears at the end, where the details of Phase One are revealed. The rhetoric of success clearly has not impressed the funding agencies, since BFI management has failed to attain adequate funding for the BFI’s cultural activities, and has been unable to think creatively or responsibly about ways to respond to the funding crisis. Instead, it is acting hastily and without consideration for the organisation’s long-term health and survival.

Dear Colleague
I am writing to tell you of some forthcoming changes at the BFI which I would like you to know about, hopefully in advance of your hearing if from other sources.

Following a review in 2003, we set a new strategic direction – a dynamic, ambitious and inspiring plan which led to a much needed increase in funding. The plan focussed on:

*The BFI National Archive and Collections – nurturing and nourishing the greatest collections on film in the world – both physical and intellectual engagement

*Sustaining an international focus for film exhibition in this country – through BFI Southbank and the London Film – to build the case for a Film Centre

*Deliberately intervening to ensure the widest diversity of film and knowledge about film is available to everyone in the UK – recognising that eventually most distribution will be done digitally

Explicit within these goals was an expectation that we aspired to remain an international cultural authority – and be recognised as such at home and abroad. Critically to achieve any of this we needed to lift the perceived value of the BFI and what it delivered. We have delivered on all fronts with some really, really stunning achievements.

The profile and commitment to the Archive is completely different. We have provided national leadership through the emerging National Film Archive Strategy, invested in the organisational and physical care of the archive, plus made real steps forward in reaching out to new audiences through broadcast, innovative event screenings and the design and programming of the Mediatheque. New monies have been brought in to further our aims. Of course, it is nowhere near enough, the Archive is a life work, but as a result of the new, high profile commitment to the Archive, new funding opportunities are presenting themselves – opportunities which simply would not have been there before.

We have changed the face and profile of the BFI and all its activities by opening a new front door at BFI Southbank. Again a really important step in showing the world in a much more comprehensive way, the value of all our activities, and our determination that the international legacy of the world renowned cultural programme is sustained into the future – and in a way which responds to today’s audience expectations. As a direct result of building the case for BFI Southbank, significant funding for a feasibility study for the Film Centre was forthcoming along with the stunning alignment of key stakeholders supporting the potential for a longer-term project.

There is a soaring ambition for the Festivals – particularly the LFF where admired programming, together with critical relationship building and the marketing additionality of the headline sponsor, has attracted renewed interest which brings with it the potential of new funding support in the future.

Some stunning new initiatives have brought our distribution of film and knowledge to a large number of new audiences, from the real successes of co-productions in Mitchell & Kenyon and Friese-Greene, the archival shorts initiative. Furthermore the availability online of the legendary BFI filmographic database has resulted in a groundbreaking commercial deal which will lead to the BFI knowledge and brand being an integral part of all portable video players into the future.

The digitisation of archive material for the Mediatheque and the production of education materials for this and ‘Screen-on-line’ contributed to our national profile, manifest in our leadership of the National Film Education Strategy. Looking forward the horizon is very complex – and uncertain. There are real opportunities for much needed capital investment, but some very, very real challenges with expectations of a significantly reduced operational budget. There are also decisions we made three years ago that we have yet to carry out. The Governors re-affirmed the strategic direction last June (2006) – whilst acknowledging the likely challenging financial context going forward, namely:

– an uncertain commercial climate for books, DVDs and Stills sales
– higher than anticipated utilities costs
– a continued requirement to top up our pension fund (£7-800k per annum)
– uncertainty about our grant in aid from Government – it has been the same for 4 years (with no inflationary link). Whilst we expected this to be the case for the first three years, we could not plan for a standstill grant this year or going forward without significant change across the BFI in order to live within a smaller budget framework. It is now clear that this is the most likely scenario although confirmation will probably not be received until late autumn 2007 – hence our critical need to re-think and re-align now. These are set against the opportunities presented as a result of the work achieved in the last three years:

– stronger cohesive organisation with an influential and supportive Board
– changing perception of the BFI across broad stakeholder group (with still masses more to do)
– potential capital funds for the Archive

– potential funding for the Festival

– potential support and funding for the Film Centre

So the challenge is to push ahead with our strategic direction, adhere to the integration of our cultural values whilst explore alternative ways to work within a significantly reduced financial framework. We are taking a phased approach. An outline of the first phase is attached for your information. As you can see, we are determined wherever possible to protect areas of critical cultural roles but find creative ways to deliver them differently.

We will need to implement this first phase in the next six months. As you are aware, a feasibility study was undertaken two years ago under the guidance of a committee compiled of representatives of the British Library, HEFCE, BUFVC, AHRC and MeCCSA looking at the future investment needs of the Library. The recommendations of the report reinforced the original decision to look to a partnership. We are now pushing ahead with the plan to seek a formal partnership for the Library for investment and greater engagement by the research, academic and filmmaking communities. In order to live within a reduced financial framework, there will be further changes to come later in the year. As soon as they are formulated I will write again.

Above all we need your support. It is very important to all of us that we don’t undermine the good work achieved over the last three years. As a special friend of the BFI, I hope therefore that if you have any concerns, queries or suggestions that your first port of call would be ring or email me directly as I would be very delighted to discuss any area in more detail if wished.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely
Amanda Nevill

An outline of the first phase
– We propose to remove BFI Book Publishing from the direct management and responsibility of the BFI whilst retaining the imprint and close association between BFI books and the overall cultural programme. This will be effected by a sale, merger or outsourcing arrangement.

– The Footage sales operation has grown significantly over the past three years. We now want to develop the operation further.
– We believe that the Film Sales operation will perform best if it is contained within an organization that has greater critical mass in this area of work. We propose to seek tenders from third parties to take over the film sales on behalf of the BFI.

– The Stills collection we propose will revert to a research only facility and we will no longer engage in sales activity. Eventually, it is anticipated that the Stills collection will move to Berkhamsted in order to release space at Stephen Street.
– Sales of BFI DVDS are already managed by a third party. We intent to engage in a re-tendering of that activity over the next few months. We also wish to review whether we can deliver DVDs in a different way. This includes a potential procurement tender. We plan to tender the production process for DVD to see if we can improve performance through managing the editorial and delivery in-house, but the production process out-of-house.
– Sight and Sound remains an important part of the BFI’s cultural outreach but we need to work on a growth plan to secure its future. In particular, we want to get a better understanding of Sight and Sound’s editorial role within the emerging BFI digital strategy through retaining editorial content in house but market testing the production process.
– The BFI Membership Scheme, which was relaunched within the Trading Division and is now attaining stability verging on growth, is now in good enough state to transfer to the Marketing Team where there are obvious links and strategies.

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