New Era newsletter issue 4

Issue 4 of the BFI’s New Era for Film transition newsletter circulated today details the new work activity, the new departments and their location. To access PDF click below.

New Era for Film issue 4

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Cuts to BFI library service

The following notice was sent to BFI library members on 12 April 2011:

Go to a copy of this message on the BFI website

Dear Library Member

Please be aware that from the week beginning 18th April 2011, the Reading Room of the BFI National Library will close at 5.30pm on Tuesday evenings. All late opening will be suspended during the summer holiday period, starting in July and resuming again in early September.

Additionally, there will be a one week closure during August so that essential planning activities can take place. Further specific details of these changes to the Library schedule will be communicated to Library Members shortly.

The next year will be an exciting and challenging one for the BFI National Library and we will be spending a lot of time looking at all aspects of our operations, including our opening hours and services. We really appreciate your cooperation and understanding at this time of transition and wish to reassure you that we will work hard to minimise any inconvenience to you. We look forward to seeing you in the Reading Room very soon.

Best wishes

The BFI National Library Team

Sent by BFI, 21 Stephen Street, London W1T 1LN

Article about BFI library in ThreeD magazine

The MeCCSA newsletter ThreeD includes a feature about the BFI library in its April 2011 issue, which focuses on resistance to the cuts in Higher Education. To access a PDF of the article, click here:

BFI National Library: modernising or mothballing?

Library campaign letter to BFI governors

Today the following letter, together with individual copies of the campaign petition, was delivered by hand to each member of the BFI board of governors:

07 April 2011

Dear Governor,

We write to express our concern, a concern shared by many in the UK and international film and media community, about the BFI management’s proposals for the Institute’s incomparable library. We have hoped that the changes proposed would improve access to and care of the collection but they promise to do the reverse.

Our views are well represented in the documents which accompany this letter to you: notably, the letter to the Director, signed by us and more than twenty other professors, and the petition of more than 1,000 signatories (available at http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42006.html ). The concern, to which these documents testify, has been echoed in the press – eg in The Independent, Sight and Sound, The New Statesman and The Times Higher Education Supplement. Since writing to the Director we have met her and her colleagues and take some comfort in their assurances and the undertakings made by Heather Stewart, by e-mail and in her statement in Sight and Sound. These assurances include a commitment to the library being a top priority and head of the investment list, public consultation on proposals, maintaining the level of professional expertise and qualifications among library staff, not worsening access to the ITC collection and maintaining the library acquisition budget. Heather has also referred to the risk to collections of printed materials posed by basement storage and we share her concern on this matter – not least because a basement next to the river Thames is, obviously, a riskier location than one in Stephen Street.

However, the Director has referred to April 2012 as the target date for implementing the library’s move to the South Bank – this is now only a year away and if public consultation is to be meaningful and capable of influencing the Institute’s decisions we are convinced that clear and detailed proposals – perhaps with modelled options – need to be made public very soon. We write now therefore to bring to your attention the pervasiveness of a high level of public and user concern over the future of the BFI National Library and the need soon to bring forward clear and detailed proposals for its future so that public consultation can be meaningful. The BFI National Library is an incomparable resource – its integrity, comprehensiveness and accessibility must not be worsened.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Edward Buscombe

Professor Richard Collins

Professor Pam Cook

Professor Annette Kuhn

Amanda Nevill interview in Telegraph

From the Telegraph today:

Amanda Nevill: ‘Great films should be commercial, too’

Amanda Nevill, who today becomes the most powerful figure in British film, talks to David Gritten .

By David Gritten 10:28AM BST 01 Apr 2011

‘It’s curious,” Amanda Nevill, director of the British Film Institute, tells me. “There’s been lots of talk this week about how negatively middle-aged women are portrayed in film.” She pauses for effect: “Well, I’m a middle-aged woman.”

Indeed. It was her 54th birthday last week, as a gift of white orchids in her office attests. Ironically, from today Nevill becomes the British film industry’s most influential figure, as head of a newly expanded BFI that has absorbed some of the staff and functions of the now-deceased UK Film Council – including the distribution of lottery funds for film production.

Nevill is not the only woman on top in this rebooted BFI, now Britain’s leading film body. Four of her five senior staff were already women (including London Film Festival director Sandra Hebron) – and among the most high-profile of 44 arrivals from the UKFC are Tanya Seghatchian and Lizzie Francke from its Film Fund. “They’re all formidable,” Nevill says of her colleagues. “I haven’t deliberately gone out to recruit women. It just happened that way.”

Gender issues aside, her rise is remarkable. She totally lacks film-biz brashness; in manner, she is thoughtful, articulate and a good listener, with a consensual management style.

The BFI, now in its 78th year, has spent the past decade in the shadow of the UKFC, a body that sprang from the Blair government’s fascination with Cool Britannia and the capacity for our creative industries to make serious money for the nation.

The UKFC was a very New Labour quango – confident, metropolitan, well-connected in government, intrigued by cinema’s economic potential and faintly dismissive of old-school notions about the cultural value of film. Still, it helped professionalise and energise Britain’s film industry, and funded several worthwhile films, as well as some dreadful ones.

The BFI, in contrast, was venerated but somewhat sleepy. Its National Film Theatre, a refuge for older film buffs, seemed incapable of embracing wider audiences. It had a valuable archive and comprehensive if ageing library and research facilities. Its London Film Festival was worthy but under-achieving. Generally, it seemed in a rut.

Nevill became BFI director in 2003, having previously headed what is now the National Media Museum in Bradford. This Yorkshire woman was regarded as an outsider, and hardly any match for John Woodward, the UKFC’s shrewd, politically savvy chief executive.

“My first two or three years here were really tough,” she recalls. “I can remember for the first time in my life thinking I’d bitten off more than I could chew, and it would defeat me.”

Instead, she has discreetly revolutionised the institute. The National Film Theatre was rebranded BFI Southbank, and has become a vibrant, lively audience magnet without compromising the quality of the films it offers. Its Imax cinema at Waterloo is one of the world’s highest-grossing screens. Its archive enjoys a higher public profile. The BFI offers a ravishing DVD collection, especially strong on older British documentaries.

These are reasons why the BFI enjoys widespread public affection. But the UK Film Council, though respected within the film industry, drew criticism for the high salaries of its top executives and for some of the films it chose to fund (infamously, Sex Lives of the Potato Men, back in 2004).

Last summer, the new Coalition government decided this was a quango it could not stomach, and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt abruptly, perhaps over-hastily, announced its abolition.

Ironically, the UKFC had latterly improved its criteria for funding films, and its greatest triumph arrived after its death sentence was announced. The King’s Speech, which neither Film Four nor (astonishingly) BBC Films saw fit to support, would never have been made without the UKFC’s financial backing.

It became a multiple Oscar winner and a huge worldwide success, grossing $135 million in America alone. And a hefty portion of its net profits will now return to… the BFI.

When I observe to Nevill that the new BFI would find the equivalent of a King’s Speech every year hugely helpful, she says: “It wouldn’t be bad. But I would never want recoupment to be a motivation for what we invest in. Recoupment is the result of making good investments. It mustn’t be the motivation.”

This is less high-minded than it sounds. It’s easy to categorise the BFI as a body that supports films of cultural importance, while the UKFC sought out potential hits, but Nevill insists: “There’s a false dichotomy between commercial and cultural. They’re completely symbiotic. I don’t believe there’s a filmmaker out there who doesn’t want to make a film that’s so compelling that it sets the world alight and makes people want to see it. In other words, it becomes commercial.”

This suggests the films to be funded by the new BFI may not look that different from before: there should be support for work by auteurs such as Terence Davies (shunned for years by the UKFC, but belatedly acknowledged and subsidised) and, on the other hand, backing for mainstream British crowd-pleasers such as Made in Dagenham. Still, the occasional King’s Speech would help a new BFI faced with cuts. Half the Film Council’s staff have been discarded; the BFI’s budget is being slashed by 20 per cent and 70 posts are being lost.

Nevill ticks off the cuts the public will notice, including further downsizing of the Edinburgh Film Festival, maybe fewer DVD releases, and the BFI’s research library’s switch to the Southbank, where, run by a smaller staff, it enters a digitised era.

She refuses to be demoralised by cuts: “We have to start inventing the new, let go of the past, move away fast from this reshuffle and get a sense of liberation. We determined that we’d be smaller, but we’d be world-class and uphold the quality of what we do.”

Is anything especially on her mind at the moment? “How to connect bigger audiences, particularly outside London, with a wider diversity of films?” She shrugs. “We have to try.” With her track record, you wouldn’t bet against her.

Amanda Nevill: ‘Great films should be commercial, too’ – Telegraph