31 May 2007

Letter in the THES

A letter addressed to Amanda Nevill and Anthony Minghella by 48 leading academics from around the world is published in this week's Times Higher Education Supplement. The letter was sent before the BFI circulated its plans, but the concerns expressed in it were on the mark.

BFI's vital mission
We have read the document The BFI: A Preview on the institute's web page, which details initial plans for a radical overhaul. We applaud the desire to examine how to maintain and develop the BFI's historic mission but are concerned that the document does not address book publishing.

Publishing at the BFI has long been a key component of its national and international image and reputation.

We and many other senior scholars of the media around the world have benefited from the wealth of sophisticated, high-level cultural research and pedagogy that the area has supported and promoted.

As an imprint and a group of in-house intellectuals linked to the wider tasks of the institute (many of whom have been distinguished authors in their own right), BFI Publishing has made a unique contribution to the study of film and television around the globe.

We are not aware of any specific plans the BFI has to evaluate publishing, but with so many segments of public culture at risk through the desire to monetise all and sundry, we want to emphasise the importance of this wing of your activities.

For us, for media studies academics and students around the world, it could not be greater. Publishing at the BFI is an international flagship to millions of people in education.

We urge you to sustain and develop this vital independent voice.

Toby Miller
University of California, Riverside
Tony Bennett
Open University
Charlotte Brunsdon
Warwick University
And 45 other leading academics from around the world




3 comments:

Paul McDonald said...

I very much share the concerns raised by this letter. However I think a stronger argument needs to be made about the value of publishing at the BFI. In the Royal Charter they give their objectives as:

'The objects of the Institute shall be to encourage the development of the arts of film,television and the moving image throughout Our United Kingdom, to promote their use as a record of contemporary life and manners, to promote education about film, television and the moving image generally, and their impact on society, to promote access to and appreciation of the widest possible range of British and world cinema and to establish, care for and develop collections reflecting the moving image history and heritage of Our United Kingdom.'

Surely the loss of BFI Publishing would represent a pulling back from the commitments to 'promote education about film, television and the moving image generally, and their impact on society' and also 'to promote access to and appreciation of the widest possible range of British and world cinema'. Maybe BFI Publishing will have a future life in the hands of an external partner, however does not the letting go of publishing represent the Institute partly pulling back on the commitments of its Charter?

Paul McDonald
University of Portsmouth, UK

Cary Bazalgette said...

I think the arguments about publishing, important as they are, need to be placed in the wider context of the BFI's cultural role in the UK and internationally. Through courses, summer schools and conferences, many of which were connected with, or led to, influential publications, the BFI has played a key role in developing debate and learning about cinema and TV around the world. Both the BFI and the UK Film Council now need to hear from those who benefitted from this process, about what the Institute's cultural role ought to be in the future. Taking into account its currently dire financial situation, and setting aside the question of who ought to take responsibility for this, would it be appropriate for the BFI to contribute to greater knowledge and understanding of moving image media, and if so how could it best do that?

Paul McDonald said...

As Cary Bazalgette notes, the 'BFI has played a key role in developing debate and learning about cinema and TV around the world'. This is certainly the case.

She suggests 'both the BFI and the UK Film Council now need to hear from those who benefitted from this process, about what the Institute's cultural role ought to be in the future', and this would be valuable, however it must be noted that BFI management has demonstrated no wish to engage in such dialogue. How will the BFI or UKFC canvas opinion on the Institute's future cultural role? Is the BFI at all interested in hearing such opinion? Current developments suggest not.