16 December 2007

Normal service will be resumed ...

... from 7 January 2008. Meanwhile, Happy Christmas to ALL our readers.


10 December 2007

Colin MacCabe bids for Chair of BFI

Just when you thought it was over ... This article appeared in Screen International online (screendaily.com) today.

Colin McCabe [sic] demands end of "tragic decade" for British Film Institute

Geoffrey Macnab in London
10 Dec 2007 06:16

Distinguished British academic and producer Colin MacCabe has today (Monday) publicly announced his candidature for the post of Chair of the British Film Institute (BFI).

The current chairman Anthony Minghella is due to step down at the end of the year. Whether or not MacCabe's application is successful, it is bound to provoke debate about the future direction of the BFI.

In a strongly-worded letter to James Purnell, Secretary of State Department of Culture, Media and Sport, MacCabe criticised the decision taken when the UK Film Council (UKFC) was set up in 2000 to "subordinate" the BFI to the Film Council.

This decision, he suggested,"inaugurated a tragic decade in the BFI's history, when it lost its international reputation as a centre of excellence, but also meant that the Film Council was set up without the necessary expertise in film history to function effectively."

MacCabe has called for a "recalibration" of the relationship between UKFC and the BFI.

"This recalibration would need to include a re-assessment of the UKFC's current business model for film funding," MacCabe wrote in his letter to Purnell.

"In particular it should be an urgent question as to whether a policy which does not include a criteria for additionality is the most productive or appropriate use of Lottery funding.

As important is the necessity for an audit of the training and regional policies which have as their aim the production of the next generation of British film-makers."

MacCabe went on to lament "the calamitous state of the BFI as an authoritative centre of knowledge and expertise."

When he joined the BFI as Head of Production in 1985, MacCabe stated, "there were over 20 globally recognised experts working at various levels of the BFI. Now there are one or two at most."

The BFI received a major boost earlier this autumn when Purnell announced that the UK Film Council (UKFC) has been awarded £25m to safeguard the future of the UK's national and regional film archives.

Using these funds, UKFC is aiming to preserve and restore the BFI's national and regional collections.

Asked about the current relationship between the BFI and UKFC, a BFI spokesperson commented: "we work extremely closely with the UK Film Council. We are absolutely shoulder to shoulder. They fully understand our needs. We are very much part of their ongoing strategy."

Previous chairmen of the BFI have included such eminent figures as Lord Attenborough and Jeremy Thomas.

A new Chair is likely to be appointed by DCMS/UK Film Council early next year.

A UKFC spokesperson said that there was "a strong field of candidates" who will be interviewed by a panel consisting of the the Chair and Deputy-Chair of the UK Film Council (Stewart Till and Andrew Eaton), BFI Governor Roger Laughton and Brian Leonard of the DCMS. The interviews will take place in January.

MacCabe's latest film as a producer, Isaac Julien's Derek Jarman, will premiere in Sundance early next year.

06 December 2007

BFI Publishing/Palgrave Macmillan update

Although BFI authors have not yet been informed, the BFI Publishing/Palgrave Macmillan partnership deal was finalised on Monday 3 December. The Publishing unit will leave Stephen Street on 21 December and will be relocated in Palgrave Macmillan offices in King's Cross from January 2008.

25 November 2007

Reprieve for BFI National Library?

Although an official announcement has not yet been made, it appears that the BFI National Library has been reprieved -- but whether this is due to public pressure or difficulties in finding a suitable partner to take it on is hard to determine. Details have not been made available about future funding of this precious resource.

No reprieve, however, for BFI Publishing -- the deal with Palgrave Macmillan is apparently close to being finalised.

11 November 2007

Sight and Sound contributor's column under threat

BFIwatch returned from sabbatical to yet another example of the BFI's lack of respect for democracy and freedom of speech. On 2 November Sight and Sound columnist Danny Birchall was sent an email from editor Nick James informing him that due to comments about Amanda Nevill made on his blog several months earlier, his regular column for the magazine would be withdrawn. Danny was not the only person who was shocked and appalled at this heavy-handed response to a personal opinion expressed completely independently of Sight and Sound and the BFI. Subsequently Nick James relented, and sent another email reinstating Danny's column. This correspondence, Danny's responses and readers' comments can be found on Danny's blog at:


02 November 2007

Variety on UKFC's enhanced festival funding

Variety carried this story yesterday about increased UKFC funding for film festivals in Britain.

UKFC boosts festival funding
Edinburgh, London likely to benefit


Variety Thurs 1 Nov 2007

LONDON — The U.K. Film Council has confirmed that it will provide an extra £4.5 million ($9.4 million) over the next three years to boost film festivals across the country, with the Edinburgh and London fests likely to be the main beneficiaries.

The vast majority of the new lottery funding, $7.8 million, will be awarded to up to two festivals of “major international and national significance” – which effectively narrows the candidates to Edinburgh and London.

The remaining $1.6 million will be split between no more than eight other festivals of purely “national significance.”

“We’ve got a very diverse array of film festivals in the U.K., achieving great results with relatively little funding,” commented UKFC chief exec John Woodward. “With a bit more targeted support we believe that the bar can be raised for the benefit of U.K. audiences and for filmmakers from the U.K. and around the world.”

The festival fund is on top of the UKFC’s existing budget. The Department of Culture also confirmed Thursday that the UKFC’s core government grant of £22.36 million ($44.5 million) will rise in line with inflation for the next three years.

The money is primarily used to fund the British Film Institute, plus the regional screen agencies and the UKFC’s finance, business affairs, communications and international departments.

This grant funding has been flat for seven years, and there were even some fears that it might be cut this time around, so the news that it will rise with inflation until 2010 is a significant boost for UKFC and the BFI.

It comes just two weeks after the government announced an extra $52 million for the UKFC to safeguard the future of the national film and TV archive.

The new coin for festivals, which was first flagged earlier this year, has already started to change the U.K.’s fest landscape. It was one of the factors that influenced Edinburgh’s decision to move its date from August to June, further away from the London fest in October. This fits better with the UKFC’s strategy to support two complementary rather than competing international events.

17 October 2007

Missing piece for BFI Southbank Bresson season

The article below by Ginette Vincendeau had to be removed from the BFI membership website for technical reasons. Those of you interested in Bresson who missed it might still like to catch it.


Ginette Vincendeau

Robert Bresson’s originality and his elevated status in the pantheon of French post-war cinema derive from his austere style and metaphysical concerns, but also his rejection of anything that smacked of ‘commercial’ filmmaking – he went as far as refusing the term ‘cinema’, to replace it with the quaintly old-fashioned cinématographe.[1] Central to his system was the rejection of professional actors and recourse, instead, to so-called ‘models’ (or, in an earlier appellation, ‘protagonists’). Bresson employed some great actors in his early features, for instance Maria Casarès in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1944). But soon he decided that to attain what Paul Schrader calls his ‘transcendental style’,[2] he must use only untrained people and ask them to recite their text with no inflection whatsoever. To this end he would make them rehearse the same lines endlessly until they were ‘flattened’, as if by an iron, as he told François Weyergans.[3]

Bresson hated professional actors for the reasons others love them, namely their charisma and ability to evoke emotions, and he radically stripped their performance style of any character or idiosyncracy. Above all, he needed to control them. As Paul Schrader said, ‘In a Bresson film, Bresson is the only one who does the creating’.[4] This unique method undoubtedly bore fruit. Bresson’s films have a mesmerising quality and some of his ‘anonymous’ models – Martin Lasalle in Pickpocket, Anne Wiazemsky in Au hasard Balthazar for instance – are as memorable as famous stars. Hence his work commands enormous respect and, among others, Jean-Luc Godard, Marguerite Duras and Susan Sontag have praised him as one of world cinema’s geniuses.

In the chorus of praise for Bresson’s handling of actors, there has been the odd false note – Maria Casarès thought Bresson curtailed her talent; the writer Marie Cardinal who plays the mother in Mouchette (1966) severely criticised his harsh treatment of the cast;[5] the theoretician Jean-Pierre Oudart declared Bresson’s posture as an auteur ‘Sadian’.[6] The recent publication of Anne Wiazemsky’s book Jeune fille,[7] adds a startling piece of evidence to this controversial issue. Wiazemsky, who plays Marie in Au hasard Balthazar (1966), comes with an impeccable cultural pedigree. The grand-daughter of novelist François Mauriac (who was prescient enough to encourage her to keep a diary during the shoot), she was plucked from her bourgeois family at the age of 18 by Bresson, through her friend Florence (Carrez, who plays the lead part in Bresson’s 1962 Le Procès de Jeanne D’Arc). Subsequently Wiazemsky married Godard, appeared in his films, and later became a prize-winning writer and a filmmaker.

Jeune fille, which recounts her experience on Balthazar, begins in anodyne fashion, like its title. A shy and sheltered adolescent, as befitted her privileged Catholic background in pre-May 68 France, she was initially in awe of the suave 64-year-old Bresson. What unfolds then is an extraordinary tale which mixes insights into Bresson’s method with the usual behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and the more unusual story of the director’s repeated attempts, in equal measures, at controlling and seducing Wiazemsky. These go from isolating her from the rest of the crew, making her sleep in a bedroom next to his, and forbidding her to see her friends or mother, to brutal treatment on set (unexpectedly violent slaps or falls, provoking director of photography Ghislain Cloquet to protest), to gestures and words that would now be called plain sexual harassment. This is no prurient ‘kiss-and-tell’ story though. Wiazemsky repeatedly expresses her admiration for Bresson as well as the liberating nature of working on Balthazar, which literally changed her life. What she documents, rather, is how behind Bresson’s much admired ‘Jansenist’ approach to theories of performance is also a brutally exploitative – at times cajoling, at times sadistic – attitude towards flesh-and-blood actors, especially virginal young women.

The timid jeune fille quickly understood her power over the tyrannical but besotted older filmmaker; she deliberately lost her virginity to a young man on the crew and bravely resisted the master night after night. Many will think that on screen her radiant embodiment of Marie, in its glowing simplicity, is a tribute to Bresson’s brilliance. But Wiazemsky shows forcefully the ambiguities as well as the human price there is to pay for Bresson’s apparently a-temporal and metaphysical cinema.


[1] The term is enshrined in Bresson’s book Notes sur le Cinématographe (first published in 1975).
[2] Paul Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1972).
[3] François Weyergans, Robert Bresson, ni vu ni connu, part of the ‘Cinéastes de notre temps’ series. The film was initially shot in 1965, then re-released in 1994 bracketed by Weyergans’s comments.
[4] Schrader, op. cit., p. 66.
[5] Marie Cardinal, Cet Eté-là (Paris : Julliard, 1967).
[6] Jean-Pierre Oudart, ‘Le Hors-champ de l’auteur’, Cahiers du cinéma, N° 236-7, p. 88, quoted in Keith Reader, Robert Bresson (Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 65.
[7] Anne Wiazemsky, Jeune fille (Paris, Gallimard, 2007).

Good news for UK archives

The following email about the DCMS's substantial award for UK national archives was circulated to staff by the BFI press office today. It's followed by a news release from the DCMS itself:

Colleagues -

I attach a (final draft) news release issued by the DCMS today announcing a £25 million investment to support the UK's national and regional film archive strategy, as developed by the BFI with partners. This is part of the Government spending round announced last week.

This really is most welcome news and represents a huge vote of confidence in the BFI by Government. We are about to see probably the biggest ever single investment made in the BFI National Archive that will ensure the national collection can be safeguarded. Furthermore, and as part of the national archive strategy that was out to consultation during the summer, investment can also be made in regional archive infrastructure and digitisation, which will lead to people throughout the UK having much wider access to their film heritage wherever they are and regardless of where the material is held.

This announcement is testament to the hard work, commitment and achievements of everyone at the BFI over the past three years or more as we have restructured the Archive, highlighted the importance of the collections, launched many new access initiatives and led in the development of the national archive strategy.

Full detail on how the investment will be apportioned is yet to be announced but we'll keep everyone posted. Hopefully, we will also have further good news to tell over the coming weeks, so again...watch this space!


BFI Press Office


James Purnell announces £25 million for national and regional film archives.

As the curtain opens on the Times BFI 51st London Film Festival, Culture Secretary James Purnell today announced that the UK Film Council (UKFC) has been awarded £25 million to safeguard the future of the UK's national and regional film archives.

Mr Purnell revealed the funding package from the latest DCMS funding settlement settlement ahead of his attendance at tonight's opening gala performance of David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises in Leicester Square.

This £25 million fund is in addition to £3 million from the UK Film Council for the UK Digital Film Archive Fund. It will enable the UK Film Council to implement the Screen Heritage Strategy to preserve the visual memory of the UK and ensure access for all.

Using the funds the UKFC will:

· preserve and restore the British Film Institute (BFI) national collection and the regional collections, some of which is deteriorating and in danger of being lost;
· ensure a joined up strategic approach to making the collections safe and overcome issues around rights, digitisation and skills investment;
· increase accessibility to the public; and
· enable archive material to be accessed around the regions.

The BFI National Archive is one of the world's greatest collections of film and television and one of the most accessible.

The majority of the collection is British material but it also features a significant number of works from around the world. And it contains more than 60,000 fiction films, over 120,000 non-fiction titles and around 675,000 television programmes, which is well over 500,000 hours of material.

But a large amount of the contents of the archive is in danger of being lost and much needs to be restored. An estimated 30 per cent (123,000 cans) of the acetate collection is deteriorating.

Mr Purnell said:

'The archive is a national treasure. It's a visual history of Britain since the moving image began. From the earliest silent newsreels to CinemaScope to 3-D, the BFI archive is one of the greatest collections of film and TV in the world. It's vital that we safeguard its future.

'This additional £25 million will secure the future of the national and regional archives. It's absolutely right that they should be safe and accessible for future generations.'

John Woodward, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Film Council said:

'This is a fantastic boost for our nation's screen heritage which brings to life the UK's cultural, social, political and economic history. We are now in a position to take forward our plan for screen heritage in the UK which has been developed in partnership with the sector. This money, together with £3 million of UK Film Council funding to digitise film archives will mean that the regional and national archives can protect, preserve and showcase their amazing film collections for audiences across the UK to enjoy.'

Amanda Nevill, Director of the BFI said:

'Through our emerging and nascent projects such as TV co-productions, online access activities and the Mediatheque, we have proved just how hungry the public is for archive and heritage film and how much they value it. This level of investment will mean we can once again set a world standard in conservation and preservation and bring into view so much more of our precious heritage captured on film and that the public is clamouring for.'

The national archive
Public interest in film heritage was demonstrated in the BBC TV series "The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon", which showed everyday life in Edwardian Britain taken from the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection of 800 roles [sic] of early nitrate film, and attracted a television audience in excess of 4.5 million each week.

In schools, DVDs of the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection are a useful teaching tool in aspects of Key Stage 3 history.

The regional archives
The regional film archives actively search for, acquire, and then provide access to film and video material specifically relevant to their regions. Almost all of the collections are non-fiction (feature films being the remit of the BFI ), and they vary in size from one individual film to a collection of hundreds of titles. The films are often acquired because of their local interest, but in many instances these collections are much more significant and of national and international importance.

For example: one single reel of nitrate film was deposited with the Yorkshire Film Archive, by a member of the public who had been to an archive screening. The film shows unique moving images of Queen Victoria when she visited Sheffield to open the new Sheffield Town Hall on 21st May, 1897. A film found and made accessible through regional activity, but of national importance.

At the North West Film Archive, the Manchester Ship Canal Company donated 175 reels of professional industrial films, dating from 1908 to the 1970s recording the historical breadth and depth of the company?s domestic and maritime exploits.

On a larger scale still, the East Anglian Film Archive holds over 1,200 award winning films, dating from 1932, made by the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers - a collection of national and international interest. The IAC require frequent access to their collection, as it continues to be actively used, but their primary consideration was to deposit the collection with an Archive with a reputation for specialist small gauge film expertise.

Notes to editors
The £25 million archive allowance is in addition to the UK Film Council's annual fund. This is still being decided following DCMS's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) settlement. The money will be split roughly evenly across 2 years.

For further details on DCMS's settlement and the Departmental Strategic Objectives over the CSR07 period, please see The 2007 Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review: Meeting the aspirations of the British people, which can be found at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/pbr_csr/pbr_csr07_index.cfm