Southbank Film Centre update

BFI senior management circulated this update on their ambitious plans for the Southbank Film Centre to staff today.

Film Centre Update

Over the past nine months, work on our concept for a new Film Centre has been given ever-increasing substance as we have continued to develop, cost and visualise the new building – and rigorously test our working assumptions and models.

The project has confirmed that the Hungerford Car Park site is the preferred site, but no action will be taken on further pursuing this option until future funding for the project has been confirmed and wider consultation has taken place.

The feasibility study has also included a building massing diagram that takes into account the constraints and aspirations for this complex site. In particular, the scheme must enable a significant extension to Jubilee Gardens and improvement of the public realm and pedestrian linkages at various levels.

The Film Centre concept includes film auditoria (including a 950-seat screen for gala events and premieres); a knowledge and creativity centre (fulfilling BFI’s educational remit and contributing to the creative sector and UK film industry); exhibition space showcasing the best of BFI’s archive; BFI operational offices; and public realm, both internally and externally (including an outdoor screen overlooking Jubilee Gardens). It will be a major destination internationally for film festivals and provide London with a world-class cultural film centre – complementing the music, theatre and gallery venues of the South Bank.

In getting to this point, we have sought the input of Lambeth council officers, including the planning department. We have also been working closely with Southbank Centre, and you may well have seen press comment that is very supportive of a Film Centre on HCP.

Funding remains another primary challenge, but we are confident that significant sums can be raised from private sector sources and haveset up a Development team to progress this, led by two BFI Governors, Eric Fellner, Chief Executive of Working Title, and Caroline Michel, MD of William Morris Agency (UK). We will, of course, be strengthening the Development team, and in the short term will be undertaking a fundraising development plan.

Size of the scheme
The work undertaken by many of you over the last year led to the development of two options. Option A had a space requirement of 20,800m² BFI space, with an estimated capital project cost of around £187m ex VAT. Recent new construction cost inflation figures, however, have caused our cost consultants to revise inflation allowances – which has had a marked effect on the total cost, taking it to £210m excluding VAT. Option B, while smaller, still rose to around £175m.

This seems too large, both in terms of space requirement and cost. We have therefore revisited the proposals, and while they are still being tested for space and cost, we are closer to a development of around 15,400m² with a cost nearer to £155m. This third Option C still retains important original features, such as: a number of auditoria – six including a 950-seater; the opportunity to engage with our collections including books, periodicals and special collections; gallery spaces; production spaces; and public facilities.

It should be stressed that these costs are based on an assessment of floor areas, not on a detailed design. There is scope in the design process for the architect to come up with innovative uses of space that may reduce the overall volume of the building (although increased complexity may have the opposite effect).

What will the Film Centre be?
* A place to access directly the still and moving image collections of film and television – be it through informal free access to further an interest in the subject of a particular film, director or genre, or the specialist in-depth research of scholars and industry experts or curated exhibitions where the cinema experience is enhanced through contextualising material, unseen to date. Where the history and development of film is on display and touchable, where restoration can be seen and practised, where new film makers can make their start up base, engage with all aspects of the creative industries and mix with the leaders in their field.A place that recognises the increasingly important congregational effect of sharing the viewing experience in cinemas that can show the best of historic film in its original format, the best of contemporary and a glimpse of the films of the future in the emerging formats of 20-30 years’ time.
* Where cultural film can benefit from the boost derived from public premieres and gala events.
* A home for the increasingly important and influential London Film Festival and a base and support for other festivals.
* A wrap-around experience – for both the virtual and physical visitor – on arriving at the site in London, with the external screen, the activities in the foyers or on entering the site on the web – an unrivalled engagement with the depth and breadth of British and international film, building on Screenonline and the Mediatheque with podcasts, reviews and the opportunity to watch and interact with what is happening within the London centre.
* It will also provide an extension to the world’s leading cultural campus – keeping the BFI in its home and putting film in its rightful place complementing the great buildings that make up the South Bank and providing the valuable extension to the open land of Jubilee Gardens.

The build
Shortly, we will be ready to start an OJEU competition process for the selection of an architect, a design team and a consultant project manager. This team, together with other approved advisers, will take the project through from concept design to a planning application. The planning application will require a detailed design to RIBA Stage D, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and community consultation prior to submission.

To get to this next step, the Executive and BFI Board have to agree to the recommended option, the cultural programme that creates the whole, the projected capital cost and the projected revenue cost. We will be aiming to do this in September – and then of course we need to secure the funding to finance the next step.

Why do we need a new centre?
And, just to remind ourselves why there is a need for the new Film Centre:
* The existing estate is coming to the end of its economic life and the original NFT building is unlikely to remain sustainable beyond the next 6-8 years. It is compromised by its position under Waterloo Bridge which renders it almost invisible and creates huge operational problems, which will only be further exacerbated by the building of a tram on the roof of the building. The tram may well render the building unusable – without major investment to separate the building from its current roof, which is the bridge.
* Disparate estate housing UK film culture ie the BFI National Library in Stephen Street, BFI Southbank – including the NFT – under Waterloo Bridge, and the special collections in Berkhamsted.
* The BFI is committed to ensuring that the international focus for film is of an appropriate calibre to celebrate and support arguably the world’s second most significant film hub and to support its continued success in the world markets.

Jill McLaughlin
Project Director
27 July 2007

Purnell under fire

An article in theatre magazine The Stage today reports the critical response from the black theatre section and politicians to culture secretary James Purnell’s comments about inclusion and targets in the Guardian interview (see James Purnell interview).

BME theatre brands Purnell’s inclusion claims ‘insane’

The Stage, Friday 27 July 2007

by Alistair Smith

Culture secretary James Purnell has come under fire from leading figures in the black theatre sector after he claimed inclusion in the arts could now be “taken for granted” and access targets should be overhauled.

Speaking earlier this month in his first statement of policy since taking over the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Purnell revealed he intended to re-examine “target culture”. Purnell told the Guardian the battle had been won when it came to meeting quotas relating to priority groups such as ethnic minorities. He said: “When I was cultural adviser at Number 10 a decade ago, people talked about access and excellence… Coming back ten years on, people are saying to me, we can take all that for granted now, it’s in the bloodstream of British arts. I think that’s true.”

However, companies working within the black and minority ethnic (BME) theatre sector have hit back at the claims, insisting that below the surface, very little has changed when it comes to ethnic minority participation and attendance. Paulette Randall – former artistic director of Talawa, which was to have launched the UK’s first black-led theatre building before the project collapsed – said Purnell’s comments were “insane”. She told The Stage: “If only that were the case. I don’t know where he’s got this from or which theatres he’s been going to. It’s convenient to say this, but it’s simply not true. We still have so much to do. It’s not that progress hasn’t been made, but not enough. We are nowhere near.”

Nitro artistic director Felix Cross said he thought the idea of re-examining target culture was “interesting, but complex”.

“I’d like to see his evidence that the battle has been won – I don’t believe that the evidence exists,” he said. “In my experience, trying to get some organisations to walk in this direction towards the inclusion targets has been like pulling teeth, and I’m concerned statements like these could let those companies off the hook.”

Theatre Royal Stratford East artistic director Kerry Michael said it was crucial that inclusion wasn’t taken for granted. He added: “Some may argue we have come some way, but I have trouble seeing much difference below the surface – artists from ethnic minorities still have very little power within the creative sector. For example, do we really have more non-white creative leaders of institutions than we did ten years ago?”

Purnell has also come in for heavy criticism from the Liberal Democrats, who insist he is scrapping targets for inclusion that his own department has failed to meet. According to figures for 2006, attendance of arts events by BME groups has actually dropped by more than 5% since 2003. Liberal Democrat shadow culture secretary Don Foster said: “James Purnell claims the battle for inclusion in the arts has been won, but his own figures tell an entirely different story.

“Far from winning the battle, his department has failed on nearly all their arts inclusion targets. No wonder he wants to see many targets scrapped.”

Tory shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey, meanwhile, said he supported Purnell’s call to end “target culture”, but warned: “That does not mean we should lose sight of the need to increase ethnic minority participation in the arts. The fact is, leading black and minority ethnic artistic groups are woefully under-represented when it comes to the awards of grants from bodies like the arts council, particularly in London.

“So we should support leadership programmes and grant programmes for this sector. You will get greater participation that way, not from setting meaningless targets.”

Safe in their hands?

Now that the archive is apparently safe in the government’s hands (see Government support for the archive; incidentally, Film was the penultimate item on Parliament’s agenda yesterday, below the Olympics and above Animals), the time is right for public discussion about the future of the BFI’s other key cultural and educational activities. The Realignment Plan’s Phase One consultation period was due to end on 22 July; management should now be engaged in a review of the Phase One plans.

Their announcement of the results is eagerly awaited by all concerned. BFIwatch has opened up the issue of the BFI’s central role in international moving image culture, and the devastating impact that the Realignment Plan would have on its identity and on the film and television education community. The future of the institute has become a talking point around the world in press reports and website discussion forums.

Whether BFI management is prepared to take on board the concerns expressed by stakeholders and others will become clear soon. Our screen heritage will be enhanced not only by the preservation of film and television footage, but through the nurturing of the whole range of integrated activities and resources currently offered by the institute, which are acknowledged to be among the best in the world.

The pledging of government support for the national archive is admirable. Now those who hold the BFI’s future in their hands need to be made aware of the bigger picture. The British Film Institute itself is a ‘national treasure’ whose vital contribution to our moving image culture must not be sacrificed.

Government support for the archive

The following report featured in the Guardian‘s Yesterday in Parliament section today:

Yesterday in Parliament

24 July 2007


The government pledged to protect an archive of film and television footage rated as one of the best in the world.

The British Film Institute’s national archive contains 150,000 films and around 625,000 television programmes featuring the great actors and directors of British cinema.

The culture secretary, James Purnell, told MPs the archive was a ‘national treasure’ and it was safe in the government’s hands.

Item in Cahiers du Cinema

A short item about the BFI has just appeared in the French journal Cahiers du Cinéma. We’ve provided an English translation immediately after the piece.

Cahiers du Cinéma No 625, July/August 2007, p. 73


De nombreux cinéastes, critiques et historiens du cinéma britannique se mobilisent contre les risques pesant sur l’avenir de l’activité d’édition (de livres comme de DVD) du British Film Institute. Ce mouvement fait suite à l’annoncé par Amanda Nevill, sa directrice, de son intention de retirer BFI Publishing de la responsabilité de l’établissement public dans le cadre de sa réorganisation et selon des modalités (vente, fusion … ) qui restent à déterminer. Les 56 signataires d’une lettre ouverte publiée par le quotidien The Guardian du 9 juin dernier s’élèvent en particulier contre la brusquerie de cette décision et demandent sa suspension au profit d’une large concertation. Ils soulignent aussi que, si le British Film Institute souffre bien d’une crise de financement, celle-ci ne devrait pas être abordée comme pour une affaire commerciale. Et d’ajouter que les activités de projection, de conservation, d’éducation et d’édition “sont conçues pour se soutenir mutuellement” et que “l’institution serait sérieusement amoindrie par le retrait de l’une ou l’autre d’entre elles”.


A number of filmmakers, critics and film historians are taking action against the threat that hangs over the future of the British Film Institute’s book and DVD publishing activities. This movement follows the announcement by Amanda Nevill, its Director, of her plan to withdraw BFI Publishing from the Institute’s responsibility as part of its current restructuring, the details of which (sale, merger…) are yet to be determined. The 56 signatories of a letter published by the Guardian on 9th June have risen up against the abruptness of this decision and demand its suspension until an open debate is held. They also emphasise that the financial crisis that is hitting the BFI should not be addressed the way it would in a commercial operation. They add that the exhibition, preservation, education and publishing activities “are designed to support each other” and that “it will be a lessened institution if any one of them were taken away”.