Amanda Nevill’s letter to BFI staff

BFI Director Amanda Nevill circulated the following letter to BFI staff on 28 June:

Dear Colleagues

The new Prime Minister’s announcement today that James Purnell is returning to DCMS, this time as Secretary of State, is very good news for the BFI. He is a big fan of archive film and a staunch supporter of the BFI, having been a member for some time. When he was Film minister he played a key role in getting the ball rolling for the BFI to lead a joined up Archive strategy for the UK and he knows only too well the difficult financial environment we operate within. I am very confident that he will fight our corner where it counts.

I hope you will have seen some of the coverage we have generated to support our case to Government for both capital funding for the archive and an increase in grant-in-aid funding. Although the press inevitably sometimes confuse the issues, the consistent message coming across loud and clear is that we are underfunded and that the collections and Library are of central importance to the BFI.

It is important that you know we have not been sitting still on any of the issues facing us. For well over a year many meetings have taken place directly with Ministers and with the UKFC to argue the case for more funding. We are not alone in facing the same challenges as all other national cultural institutions. However, the achievements of the past three years across the Archive, South Bank, Festivals and new digital initiatives have considerably strengthened our case in the eyes of our funders.

I am sorry that some of you have had to cope with negative and disparaging comments from (often anonymous) outsiders, both verbally and in print, which have sought to undermine what we do. In some cases these calls to action are well intentioned but unhelpful as they are driven by those not in full grasp of the facts as we face them. It would be ill-advised, therefore, to be drawn into responding at an individual level as it can only be damaging for the BFI and for colleagues.

We are delighted that Amicus will be building on the campaign to date and working with us on a joint campaign that is co-ordinated and effective, drawing on both press and political contacts to present a united front.


Appeal to BFI staff from Rescued by Rover

A group of former BFI staff calling themselves Rescued by Rover circulated the following impassioned appeal to their colleagues at the institute on 27 June:

You may recently have seen some publicity about plans to restructure, outsource, license out and relocate some parts of the BFI. You may have read articles or letters in the press protesting about this, but unless you have a book contract or hold a university post, chances are you won’t have been asked to add your voice to the growing wellspring of criticism of the BFI’s current plans.

(If you haven’t heard what’s going on at the BFI, then BFIwatch, a blog set up by BFI author Pam Cook, which has collated all the media and public documents, is a good place to start. It’s at
and it’s updated regularly.)

A lot of lip service is paid to the people who make the BFI run from day-to-day: publishing books, videos and educational materials, looking after the archive, putting on events, marketing those events, or making sure the whole show runs smoothly and everyone gets paid on time. But they’re not often called on to add their voices to the letters to the Guardian, blogs, or academic mailing lists. Which is a shame, because they’re the people who keep the show on the road in the first place. So as former non-heads of department, non-senior academics and non-cultural heavyweights, we felt the need to add our voice and point of view to the discussion.

We don’t have a big list of what the ‘problems’ of the BFI are. In our view, two simple factors are responsible for the dire crisis the BFI now finds itself facing: Incompetence, and cowardice.

incompetence. The activities currently at most serious risk at the BFI are not at risk because they’re ‘unsustainable’, ‘uneconomic’ or even vaguely not part of the ‘core’ of what the BFI does. All these activities are capable of covering their own costs even before they add to the richness and diversity of film culture and education. They’re at risk because they’ve been mismanaged. They’ve been put into an ill-conceived ‘trading’ division, set unreasonably high financial targets, and reorganised by managers who don’t know the first thing about their operational activities. Now they’ve been hung out to dry on the line of budgetary deficit by senior managers who would clearly have a hard time organising the weekly shop at Sainsbury’s. While staff have worked hard to meet their insane targets, it’s been to no avail: their budgets are produced as objective ‘truth’ of their failure. This is unacceptable.

cowardice. The BFI’s senior management are afraid of what the BFI does. It’s all a bit too complicated and difficult fitting all the activities of the BFI and their wonderful interrelated synergies (the library produces programme notes for the NFT; the NFT add filmographic data to the BFI’s databases, that data gets used by both the archive and screenonline; screenonline writers go on to produce work for BFI publishing) into a ‘core’ mission statement. They don’t love film culture, they love the appearance of sophistication and importance that their association with film culture gives them. Those who sat in the public gallery of the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee and watched Alan Parker and John Woodward unashamedly hold their hands out for yet more of the taxpayers’ pound, only to be followed by Anthony Minghella and Amanda Nevill’s craven promises that they would deliver ‘better value for money’ were astounded by their cowardice. We remain astounded by their unwillingness and inability to fight for a fairer bite of the cherry for one the nation’s most important cultural heritage organisations. It seems clear to us what the problem is and where the blame lies. Anthony Minghella is due to step down as chair of the governors soon. He should go now, and he should take Amanda Nevill with him.

The recipients of other letters have been prevailed upon to write letters of protest to Minghella, Nevill and the BFI’s board of governors. We don’t hold out much hope on this score: they’re the people who got the BFI into this mess in the first place. However it is still important to let them know what you think and to encourage members of the governing body to look more closely at how the BFI has been (mis)managed. So please, write to Amanda and Anthony and the BFI governors (
), to the DCMS and to the Film Council.

But more importantly also write to the papers, post notices in online communities you belong to, raise the issue in meetings of your unions and professional associations, tell other former colleagues about it (and pass this letter on too if you wish). Lend your support to any campaigns that emerge from the BFI staff. Make a fuss, because the more noise is made, the greater the chances are of stopping these plans.

We are writing this because although we no longer work for the BFI, we still value it, and the contribution our former colleagues make, as the country’s only cultural organisation properly devoted to film. We have to do so anonymously but we nevertheless feel compelled to add our voice as former employees in an effort to save the BFI from the axe of cultural devastation currently hanging over it.


Rescued by Rover

Gordon Brown likes sport and film

The UK’s new prime minister Gordon Brown is a fan of football, tennis and film, according to his profile on the Treasury website. Hopeful as this sounds, it could indicate a potential conflict of interests as the 2012 Olympics machine gets into gear and arts funding continues to diminish as a result.

Like other UK cultural organisations, the BFI will find it increasingly difficult to survive in such a climate. All the more reason to work out a long-term strategy based on the range of integrated activities and resources offered by the institute. The partial approach taken by management offers short-term solutions in response to the current crisis, but as Director Amanda Nevill has acknowledged, the BFI’s financial future remains very uncertain (see her Guardian response posted below).

A proper consultation process about the direction taken by management would be a starting point from which to put the BFI’s plight on the government’s agenda. Since the current crisis has taken many years to reach this acute stage, one could be forgiven for asking why public consultation has not happened before. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely to happen now.

Screen heritage strategy consultation

The BFI has published the UK screen heritage strategy document on its website. The strategy, drafted by the UK Film Heritage Group, is open to consultation until 7 September 2007, and a feedback form is provided. To access the strategy document and feedback form, click here:

[link no longer available]

To view the BFI Screen Heritage UK policy:

Independent on Sunday article

An article on the funding crisis facing the BFI appeared in the Independent on Sunday Film pages today:

Film world at loggerheads over the future of the nation’s unique cinematic heritage

Financial crisis at the British Film Institute that threatens famed archives may be due to 2012 Olympics siphoning off arts funding

By Andrew Johnson
Published 24 June 2007

The film world is at loggerheads over plans to sell off the British Film Institute’s London headquarters – as the organisation struggles to cope with a financial crisis insiders believe is a result of the arts budget being raided to help fund the 2012 Olympics.

A legion of critics and academics say the plans, said to have the full support of the BFI’s chairman, Anthony Minghella, Oscar-winning director of The English Patient, could herald the break up of the BFI’s world-renowned collections.

The HQ, in the heart of the West End, was a gift from John Paul Getty and is home to the institute’s library – which includes periodicals going back to its founding in 1933 – and stills archive.

There have long been fears that the Olympics are draining resources from the arts. The BFI’s £16m annual grant has been frozen for four years, yet it needs around £34m a year to survive. It is also planning to “outsource” its publishing arm.

This week the BFI issued a plea for a further £34m to help it prevent the loss of a “substantial percentage” of its film and television archive housed in other parts of the country. That archive, containing tens of thousands and films and television programmes, is acknowledged as the best in the world.

Stephen Frears, the Oscar-nominated director of The Queen and a governor of the BFI, said: “The BFI is underfunded. That is the real issue. More importantly the archive [of films] is underfunded. That’s to do with films decaying and that’s a really serious problem.”

The institute’s director, Amanda Neville [sic], confirmed last week that selling its HQ “is a possibility”. Ms Neville said the BFI’s “vision” was to create a new film centre – as yet unfunded – to house the library and stills archive as well as a revamped National Film Theatre. Until then, a university or college would house the library.

She said: “We look after the greatest archive of film in the world. We have a responsibility to ensure that we continue to be an international centre of film in this country. The National Film Theatre [on the South Bank in central London] is coming to the end of its natural life. So the plan is a new film centre that combines all of that.

“The vision is a very exciting one. The library and archive will be at the heart of that. It has to come back to the film centre at the end of the day – assuming that centre is built.”

Critics, however, fear the centre will not be built, and the library and stills archive will end up going to the British Library, so breaking up the BFI’s unsurpassed collection.

Michael Chanan, professor of film at Roehampton University, has published an open letter raising concerns about the BFI’s plans, which has been signed by 50 other academics and film historians.

Professor Chanan said: “Our concern is that it is the end of the BFI as we know it. The BFI started in 1933, but this looks like the end of the line. The main problem is that the budget has been at a standstill since 2001. They are selling this building in Stephen Street, which they realise is worth a lot of money. But where are they going to put the reading room and library?

“There are one or two people who don’t trust the BFI to run the film archive.”

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith of Queen Mary, University of London, added: “You just wonder what this organisation is doing. The archive and library is the heart of how the BFI operates. While I appreciate they are trying to do their best, the idea of separating the library from the rest of the operation is crazy.”

The BFI’s Ms Neville said: “I make no apology for being ambitious. If the film centre doesn’t happen there’s going to be no national cinema to go to. I can’t believe as a country that we’re going to allow that to happen. Anthony Minghella is 100 per cent behind me.”

A spokesman for the British Film Council, which channels funding from the Government to the BFI, said: “The UK Film Council allocates as much money as possible to the BFI without compromising our other spending commitments.

“We recognise that more money is needed for the National Archive, which is why we have been working closely with the BFI and other partners to produce the first ever National Archive Strategy.”

To read the article online, click here:

Evening Standard article

The following article was published in the Evening Standard yesterday:

BFI demands £34m to save `the world’s finest film archives’
by Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent

Evening Standard 21 June 2007

The British Film Institute is to demand £34 million upfront and another £6 million a year to save the nation’s disintegrating film and television archive.

Four years after the BFI was condemned by the National Audit Office for leaving historic pieces of film to rot, it has produced its first costed strategy for tackling the problem.

Its report says there is an urgent need for funds to stop a “substantial percentage” of the National Film and Television Archive at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, being lost. In addition, money is needed for mass digitisation of archive film for public access, the document claims.

The BFI stresses that its current funding will not cover this. It receives £16 million a year of which £3.5 million is for the National Archive.

This contains 50,000 fiction films, more than 100,000 non-fiction titles, including
The Open Road, a 1924 Land’s End to John O’Groats travelogue which features an experimental colour process, and about 625,000 TV programmes.

There are also many other archives in the regions and museums for which the BFI is taking strategic responsibility as head of the new UK Film Heritage Group.

The biggest bill would be £25 million for new storage facilities. The National Audit Office found flammable nitrate film in storage that lacked humidity and temperature controls.

The document points out that digitising a 90-minute film from an original colour negative – one of the BFI’s more complex tasks – can cost £8,000.

Amanda Nevill, director of the BFI, said it was a historic move for the BFI National Archive to join with regional archives to present a single vision.

She said: “In this country, we have the greatest collections of film in the world. Our film and television heritage is unparalleled. The public appetite for archive film has never been greater but with much of the sector in a critical condition it desperately needs investment.”

The BFI plans to put its strategy out to consultation until 7 September before presenting a finished version to the Government. It may find it harder to secure funding given Olympic demands. Potential sources such as the Heritage Lottery Fund are having budgets cut.

To access the BFI statement referred to in the article, click here: