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”.

Colin MacCabe in the Observer

Colin MacCabe weighed in yesterday with this article in the Observer:

Save our film heritage from the political vandals

Colin MacCabe
Sunday July 8, 2007


The British Film Institute has been part of my life almost as long as I can remember. In Sixties London it was the only place to learn the history of the cinema, to see retrospectives of Howard Hawks or Roberto Rossellini. In the Eighties I was incredibly lucky to work with Derek Jarman, Terence Davies and Sally Potter as head of the BFI Production Board. It has thus been extremely painful to see the BFI being destroyed over the last 10 years by government policy. Ever since New Labour was elected in 1997 it has shown no sign of valuing this very British organisation.

When I left the BFI in 1998, it was regarded worldwide as the outstanding example of an educational and cultural film institution. It had experimental film and television production arms, a postgraduate programme and a cutting edge publications division. It hired the greatest clustering of film expertise in the world ranging from its curators to its academics. These had at their disposal the best film library and film archive in the world. They also had the National Film Theatre.

Today there is a renamed cinema complex but every other activity has been abolished or is under threat while talent has haemorrhaged away. In international circles the BFI is now mentioned not as an enviable model but as an awful example of political vandalism. Variety magazine talks of the ‘tipping point’ at which the institute will cease to exist. In recent weeks the institute has announced that it can no longer support its publication division; its great library, the recipient of hundreds of valuable donations, from Derek Jarman to Richard Attenborough, is being offered to any university that will house it; and most recently the film archive itself has been declared in grave danger through lack of resources. This is the archive which houses not only the films of Hitchcock and Lean but also the biggest collection of silent film in the world and documentaries which record British life in every decade of the 20th century.

On the morning of Brown’s reshuffle and in his last interview as films minister Shaun Woodward recognised that the crisis in the archive was so acute that extra money must be found, but he refused to accept that these problems were the result of the decisions made by Culture Secretary Chris Smith in 1998 and 1999 when he stripped the institute of its innovative production and postgraduate activities and subordinated it to a new body, the United Kingdom Film Council. Smith wanted a ‘sustainable film industry’, but this is a fantasy that has failed in every decade, from Alexander Korda in the Thirties to David Puttnam and Goldcrest in the Eighties.

Britain cannot sustain an autonomous film industry. On the one hand it confronts Hollywood, which uses both our language and our stars and, on the other, it inhabits a culture in which television and theatre hold pride of place. Any British film policy has to link our film and television industries together. If we look at the great successes of the past decade or so – both the old guard of Frears, Loach and Leigh, and the new talent of Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), Paul Greengrass (United 93) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) – what is noticeable is their hybrid formation in film and television, a mixed economy crucial to Britain.

Shaun Woodward defended New Labour policies, citing the quadrupling of production in 20 years from 30 to 120 films annually. But this is a typically misleading Film Council statistic, for it fails to distinguish between films that have found real audiences and ones that are tax-avoidance schemes. According to Screen Finance, investment in the film industry collapsed by 57 per cent in the first three months of this year. The day the Treasury brought a halt to the iniquitous tax breaks which allowed City boys to trouser more of their bonuses by investing in films, the British film industry vanished in a puff of dodgy accounting and unseen films. Films only exist when they are distributed properly. As art they need context and educational support; publications; proper cataloguing and archiving – all roles for which the BFI was invented in the 1930s. The main problem is that Blair’s Labour policy for the arts knew only two arguments – an economic one for inward investment and a social one of inclusion.

Everybody I have talked to in the past week has warmly welcomed the appointment of James Purnell as the new Culture Secretary. Many have looked forward to him appointing a new chairman of the BFI when Anthony Minghella steps down at the end of the year. But the BFI is now the only Royal Charter institution not directly responsible to a minister. The new chairman of the BFI will be nominated by the Film Council. But it is the Film Council who have reduced the BFI’s budget to less than it was a decade ago, and have held the institute on a standstill budget for the last four years and provoked the present crisis. By my calculations, if you add the lottery, tax breaks and direct government spending together, Blair’s government outspent any previous government on film by a factor of at least 10. I know nobody within the film industry who thinks it got value for money and nobody outside who has noticed.

The present crisis in the BFI is merely a symptom of a much wider failure. Purnell’s first task for film is to commission an external report and then revisit the Film Council’s monopoly position. Make no mistake; this is not another cash-strapped organisation crying wolf. The events of the last weeks have made clear that two of our most valuable national collections, the library and the archive, are on the verge of ceasing to be national resources. If Purnell cannot save the BFI then it will rapidly become clear that the only safe home for these invaluable sources of popular memory is the British Library.

Blast from the past

The problems facing the BFI today aren’t new, as this excerpt from a 1974 BFI publications policy paper shows:

‘In the field of publishing the BFI will require a carefully thought-out policy to enable it to cope with this conjunction of restricted funds and an ever-increasing gap between what the public needs and what [commercial] publishers will provide.

The BFI should involve itself more fully in publishing. Of course there isn’t enough money; but there never is enough money for all the things the Institute wants to do. But in determining the development of film culture publishing is just as important as the exhibition of films; and in the education sector arguably more so.’

Ed Buscombe, Editor of Publications, BFI Education Advisory Services, BFI Publications Policy, 25 October 1974.

If you have any relevant blogworthy quotes, send them in!