BFI library protest in the New Statesman

From the New Statesman Cultural Capital blog today:

Further cuts to UK film bodies amidst growing protest

Posted by Lucian Robinson – 19 January 2011 17:42

The BFI continues to pursue its cuts program.

Twenty five leading film academics, including Professor Pam Cook who runs the anti-cuts bfiwatch blog, have written to the British Film Institute (BFI) to protest against the proposed move of the BFI library from its current site just off Tottenham Court Road, one of the latest moves in the series of potential cuts measures to be enforced at the BFI, as a result of a 15% budget cut over the next four years. The BFI has suggested moving the collection in part to its Southbank building and in part to the National Archive Facility in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire.

The letter offers vehement opposition to the move:

It’s as if the British Library were to move to Hertfordshire. The BFI National Library has underpinned the growth of UK film and moving image scholarship, which has in turn supported the UK’s thriving cultural and creative industries. We are not aware of any consultation with library users, who, incidentally, pay an annual fee for the service, still less with donors to the collection – some of whom made gifts because the BFI offered central London access.

It also became clear today that Screen Yorkshire, the body which was responsible for much of the location scouting for the Bafta nominated film The King’s Speech could potentially lose up to 15 out of its current 19 employees, because of the abolition of the regional development agency for Yorkshire, Yorkshire Forward, which had previously provided the film funding body with finance from a £10.2 million contract for the promotion of film in the area.

The cuts program has already taken effect in some areas of the BFI with the closure of the gallery at BFI Southbank, the announcement of a ” editorial and production review” in March for the BFI’s magazineSight and Sound, a proposed pay freeze for all staff until April 2012 and some 37 reduncies at the organisation acknoweldged to be almost certain.

When announcing the cuts in December last year, the director of the BFI Amanda Nevill, said:

It is imperative the BFI builds on its successes and remains commercially astute in this tough new environment. We have an incredible opportunity in the months and years ahead to create something very special for film in the UK and these proposals are both bold and necessary.

The recent abolition of the UK Film Council has also led to the BFI being compelled to take on the former body’s funding and distribution responsibilities.

When Culture Minister Ed Vaizey gave a speech outlining his department’s vision for the future of the UK film industry last November, he talked about a “more open” and “more engaged” BFI and concluded that his proposals offered “an exciting new vision for the British film industry”. From the detail of the cuts that are beginning to emerge, it seems that in fact these changes risk creating a more parochial, target-driven and less creative British film industry.

New Statesman – Further cuts to UK film bodies amidst growing protest

BFI library protest covered in the Times Higher Education

From the Times Higher Education today:

Fears of the cutting room floor: BFI plans alarm sector

20 January 2011

By Matthew Reisz

Film institute’s overhaul would damage research, media scholars warn. Matthew Reisz reports

Academics have described plans for an overhaul of the British Film Institute’s research facilities as “pretty horrifying” and warned of major implications for their disciplines.

Facing a 15 per cent cut to its public grant, the BFI has put forward measures designed to prioritise the “core” activities that it believes “audiences most value”.

As well as cutting about 37 jobs, the plans include relocating the BFI Library from central London to the South Bank, where “a pioneering digital on-demand service…will allow desktop delivery” of collections.

More serious study would take place in a “bespoke research centre” for academics and the film industry at the BFI National Archive at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire.

However, the plans have rung alarm bells among researchers.

Melanie Selfe, research Fellow at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cultural Policy Research, said that moving the BFI’s main academic resource out of London would have a disproportionate impact on scholars outside the capital.

“We fit our research around meetings in London or when we’re passing through,” she explained. “If we have to make separate trips out to Berkhamsted, it is likely to require a different kind of planning.

“We may need to book space in advance, find a larger block of time away from teaching and generate additional funding for transport and other costs – at a time when there’s less money for arts-based research.”

Rob Turnock, senior researcher in the department of media arts at Royal Holloway, University of London, was also worried about the “pretty horrifying” plans.

He predicted that the proposals would result in “a two-tier structure across two sites, with just a small publicly facing library service at the South Bank and fewer people looking after the material”.

This was not just an issue for academics conducting rarefied research on the minutiae of film history, stressed Dr Turnock, because the BFI’s holdings also provide “the tools to engage with important political and cultural debates”.

“The archives of the Independent Television Commission, for example, provide much material relevant to considering the likely impact of any moves towards the deregulation of the BBC,” he said.

Scholars have also raised concerns about changes to viewing services. Researchers have traditionally been able to look at material held in the BFI archives, or accessible by agreement with the BBC, in screening rooms, and Dr Turnock said that plans to replace them were vague.

“In theory, having content delivered to your desktop sounds great, but no detail has been given about how it is going to happen,” he said.

“Most of the BFI holdings are now television rather than film, and much of it is analogue. Issues of copyright and prioritisation are bound to make the digitisation process resource-intensive, and these are times of financial stringency.”

Dr Selfe added: “I have used the screening facilities for relatively obscure films. If the materials made available digitally are in already established areas, it makes it more difficult to break new ground.”

Times Higher Education – Fears of the cutting room floor: BFI plans alarm sector

Featured comment on proposals for BFI library

Comment from Patricia Holland:

As a BFI member of many years standing I would like to add my voice to the many hundreds you have no doubt received objecting in particular to the reduction of the BFI Library.  A new ‘orientation’ towards ‘the public’ rather than ‘researchers and students’ poses a false dichotomy.  Researchers and students are members of the public, and any member of the public may engage in research.  I know from my own experience that  many people move between one and the other.  One of the great glories of the BFI has been its promotion of film culture for its own sake, as well as in the service of specific courses and qualifications. The BFI library -and the expert staff who run it- is a national resource which should not be reduced or cut back. (If the library is re-located in the much smaller Gallery space at the Southbank it is also unclear how the holdings will be accessed on behalf of readers.)

As a general point, the BFI is already the ‘lead body for film in the UK’.  Its future development into the digital era, following excellent initiatives such as the Mediatheque, should be seen as building on its long track record, which includes original and innovative research and publications.  The organisation’s strength has been the ability to make links between the different activities which are necessary to the promotion of a healthy film culture -including the Archive, the broad and innovative programmes mounted at the National Film Theatre, the books and DVDs, the website and so on as well as the Library. It should celebrate this broad range and make sure it is protected in the future.

The BFI should be careful not to fall into the trap set by the current government to push an important cultural activity, which depends heavily on public funding, towards an inappropriate dependence on commercial ‘business opportunities’ and ‘sponsorship’ which may change the nature of the organisation.