21 November 2008

EU online library opens

US broadcaster Voice of America carried this item yesterday:

EU Opens Online Library

By Lisa Bryant


20 November 2008

The European Union has launched a vast online library offering people across the globe access to millions of books, movies and other items from the 27-member block. Lisa Bryant has more on Europe's efforts to showcase its cultural heritage - via the Internet.

Call it the 21st century version of the famous Alexandria library that served as a hub of knowledge in ancient times. Europe is offering a similar trove of information via the Internet - allowing users to access tens of thousands of paintings, books, manuscripts, sound recordings, newspapers and other items from across the European Union.

European Commission spokesman Martyn Selmayr says the Europeana digital library is planning to expand enormously in the years to come.

"Today its just the beginning," he said. "We have two million objects today on Europeana - cultural objects which exist in digital form. Our objective is to have by the year 1010, 10 million digitized objects available from all over Europe and they will be offered in 23 languages so that everybody around the world has access to these cultural heritages of the European Union member states.

That includes digitalized representations of masterpieces from the Louvre museum in Paris or manuscripts of composers like Beethoven - or books from libraries around Europe - although only a small fraction of the region's 2.5 billion books will be available online in the coming years.

The project is one way to showcase the European Union - this time through its cultural heritage.

"On the one side it shows that Europe is made up not of a single unified culture but that it has 27-member nations and each one of them has a very long history," said Selmayr. "It also shows what we have in common and gives the perspective of the neighbors."

"For example, the fall of the Berlin Wall - very important for German history and also for European history - is something you can find on Europeana in the form of a film that is today stored in the French national audiovisual institute. Germans, Hungarians, British citizens and also Americans can see this big event, but through the eyes of French citizens," he continued.

Those who want to check out the new European library can click on http://dev.europeana.eu/.

[Link expired]

The Europeana site is now up and running:

16 November 2008

Future of BFI national library

Plans to find a HE partner to take the BFI national library have moved on. As usual, the decision-making process is shrouded in mystery, and there has been no public debate or announcement. However, Goldsmiths University of London is currently in the frame as the lead partner to take forward a digitisation project of some (unspecified) BFI holdings, possibly with funding from HEFCE. A small, select group of other UK universities (currently Glasgow, Warwick, Leeds, UEA and possibly Bristol) would participate by testing the digitised material in its initial stages.

In January 2007 MeCCSA, the official body that represents those who teach and research media, communication and cultural studies in the UK, published a paper in response to the BFI's plans for the national library expressing its concerns. Among them were the positioning of the library as a HE resource rather than a national resource, the implementation of short-term solutions to the financial problems facing the BFI and the lack of any clear strategy for collecting, preserving and accessing documentation on the moving image. (MeCCSA - Papers - The issues facing the British Film Institute National Library)

MeCCSA proposed a conference to address the need for a long-term strategy; in September 2007 a symposium on The Future of Screen Heritage in the UK was held at Roehampton University, attended by stakeholders and senior representatives of the BFI. Unfortunately it seems that the discussion had little effect on BFI management's thinking. Rather than lead debate about long-term strategy, the BFI continues to pursue short-term, temporary solutions that could be disastrous for the national library and its constituency.

16 October 2008

Time Out on BFI Film Centre

In this week's Time Out, Dave Calhoun ponders the case for the BFI Film Centre:

Why London needs a new national film theatre

As the London Film Festival opens this week, Dave Calhoun wonders when – and if – visions for replacing the National Film Theatre will ever be realised

Before he died earlier this year, Anthony Minghella often spoke about the need for a new public home for the British Film Institute, so that a cultural centre for cinema in London could stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall. Minghella’s plan was that the current National Film Theatre on the South Bank should be vacated over the next few years and a shiny new altar to all things celluloid built further down the river alongside the grander temples to the arts that line the South Bank from Tate Modern to Westminster Bridge.

So, 18 months after the very successful rebranding of the NFT as BFI Southbank, and on the occasion of the London Film Festival, it’s timely to ask: how are Minghella’s plans for a National Film Centre progressing? We spoke to the BFI and they were optimistic if cautious about economic and political obstacles. The key message, though, is that the BFI expects to receive a funding decision from the government by the end of the year and be able to race ahead with several years of fundraising to find the rest of the cash. Realistically, they’re looking at a 2014 opening date.

But there are also signs of ambitions being downgraded to match financial realities. Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, has allotted a potential £45 million for the project should his department give the final sign-off. But he recently asked new BFI chair Greg Dyke and BFI director Amanda Nevill to resubmit their plans for the centre at a cost of £150m rather than £200m. Last Tuesday night, Dyke and Nevill met again with Burnham to present these new plans and the outcome of that meeting is not yet clear.

But what remains obvious is that, assuming the BFI receives that £45m from the Government, £5m (already pledged) from the Mayor’s Office and £15m-£20m to be accrued from the sale of their current Stephen Street offices, they will still need to find some £80m from other sources. Even assuming Lottery money is forthcoming, they will rely heavily on philanthropic donations and cash raised from commercial partnerships. We asked a spokesperson if they could envisage a ‘Sony National Film Centre’ or similar branding and were reminded that The Times London Film Festival already exists.

The more open-minded, the better – but whether £150m or £200m, public or private, what’s in it for Londoners? The BFI proposes that the new centre will sit on the South Bank but be bigger and better than its predecessor. The BFI has ruled out anywhere but the middle of the city and its eyes are on a plot of land (now a car park) that lies west of the current BFI site, nestling between the Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye.

Cynics, and guardians of the public purse, may cry that the NFT only recently had a refit to become BFI Southbank, complete with a new Mediatheque, studio cinema, gallery, bar, restaurant and a lick of paint – and all at a cost of £6m. But the BFI’s line on this is that renovation was only ever meant as a temporary move to create – again to quote Minghella – a ‘testbed’ for greater things. The BFI is now having to walk a fine line by talking up the need for a new home (that will not come to pass for at least six years) while at the same time not talking down their current operation.

The reasons given by the BFI for the need for a new centre are cultural and pragmatic. Pragmatically, the BFI Southbank is nearing the end of its shelf-life and noisy trams may be passing over Waterloo Bridge by 2011 (although this second point is a bit of a red herring as no such scheme has been agreed). The cultural reasons are two-fold: that film is too important for its home to linger half-hidden under Waterloo Bridge; and that a new, prominent space will allow for all sorts of new opportunities.

What are those new opportunities? Several conversations with BFI staff allow a broad picture to emerge even if the details remain vague. There would be roughly five cinemas, with one large auditorium capable of hosting events currently served by the Odeon Leicester Square, such as the opening night of the London Film Festival and major film premieres (this second use hints that the new centre may be more inclusive of commercial cinema and that such premieres might even become a major revenue stream). The new centre would also be a window on the BFI’s archive and restoration work – a sort of living museum to film past, present and future (an example given is that punters will be able to watch restorers at work). Crucially, the centre would also be the hub for a new, nationwide delivery of digital or digitised work, either through the transmission to cinemas around the country of live Q&A sessions or the beaming of films from the National Film & Television Archive into homes via the internet, television and their future equivalents (but only if the BFI can get over the rights minefield that such a scheme would create; it owns only 1 per cent of the material in its archive). The point is: a National Film Centre would incorporate the values (and, one hopes, the unique programming) of the current BFI Southbank but would also be more uniquely relevant and ready to advance into a digital age.

Fundraising and politics aside (for example, what would a Tory government make of the plans?), that last hope is a rightful and fascinating one. It’s crucial that some progressive thinking goes into deciding what a modern film centre should be. Is the current model of the multi-screen cinematheque adequate? Should people even be charged to watch films? Now is the time for a full debate as to what exactly this building should be. It’s time for radical thinking and it’s a discussion that we intend to continue on these pages as more details – and, hopefully, more money – emerge.

Author: Dave Calhoun

Why London needs a new national film theatre - Time Out London - Time Out London

10 October 2008

BFI Board of Governors meetings

Readers interested in the deliberations of the BFI's executive Board of Governors can read the minutes of its meetings on the BFI website:

03 September 2008

Amanda Nevill on BFI's latest initiative

BFI director Amanda Nevill speaks in the Guardian today about the BFI's poll to find the classic films that are considered worthy to be bequeathed to future generations. The poll is part of the BFI's 75th birthday celebrations and has been reported in national broadsheets.

Fans invited to name the movie they would bequeath to future generations

· BFI seeking out the films that stand test of time
· Public urged to join stars in nominating favourites

* Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer
* The Guardian,
* Wednesday September 3 2008

Juliette Binoche has chosen Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice. Cate Blanchett, another fan of the Russian director, has nominated his Stalker. Director Terence Davies, on the other hand, picked out Kind Hearts and Coronets for its flawless comedy and impeccable pacing. And the British Film Institute is asking members of the public the question: if you had to choose one film to bequeath to future generations, what would it be?

The scheme, launched yesterday, is part of the BFI's 75th birthday celebrations. It is a young institution, compared with the National Gallery and British Museum. But, says BFI director Amanda Nevill, the organisation is just as important as those museums in protecting and promoting our cultural heritage.

"Film is society's chosen medium," she said. "We still don't value film in the way we do Roman vases or Titian. We give a certain reverence to paintings that we don't give to films. I want film to occupy the same sort of importance as Titian and Turner. It is just as important, and not just some trite entertainment thing."

The BFI has already invited 75 figures from the film industry to nominate the film that they would most like to see passed down to future generations. Veteran actor Leslie Phillips named Empire of the Sun by Steven Spielberg, in which he appeared, because, he said: "I was absolutely knocked out by Steven. He was so sweet, so lovely, and so good." Jaime Winstone, the young actor who has just appeared in Olly Blackburn's horror movie Donkey Punch, picked out Quadrophenia. "It had a real impact on me when I watched it when I was younger," she said. "It has never left me, and it inspired me to go into film."

Members of the public are being invited to nominate films on the BFI website over the next month. The five or 10 films that emerge as the most popular will be shown at the BFI Southbank in London and then at cinemas across the country.

Among the nominations so far, David Lean is an early favourite. Sir Roger Moore nominated Lawrence of Arabia; producer Stephen Woolley Great Expectations; and Ryan's Daughter was also selected.

The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have also received an enthusiastic response, with Patrick Marber putting forward The Red Shoes and three nominations for the postwar masterpiece A Matter of Life and Death, making it, perhaps surprisingly, the single most nominated movie so far.

Other British films that were put forward include Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher; Shane Meadows's This is England; Lindsay Anderson's If and Ken Loach's Kes. Bill Nighy chose Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning, and Chiwetel Ejiofor nominated Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove.

Those nominating have freedom to chose outside the British canon.

Nevill defended the choice to extend the possibilities to Hollywood and world cinema, saying: "It never crossed our minds to limit this to British films. It is one of the great things about British culture in general that it has always been outward looking and contextualised globally. British film is not so weedy that it needs to be selected out."

Most of the films selected so far are mid-20th century classics: Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal; the musical Singin' in the Rain; Fellini's ; Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible; and Carol Reed's Third Man.

But some recent films have been chosen as classics of the future. Composer Michael Nyman, who scored many of Peter Greenaway's films, picked out Mexican director Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (2007) - a film that has no score. Other more recent nominations include Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (2005); Noel Clarke's Adulthood (2008); and Clarke's own nomination of Pulp Fiction (1994).


21 August 2008

BFI in Cinema Journal

The latest issue of Cinema Journal, the magazine of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies, has devoted its In Focus section to a collection of articles about the history and current situation of the BFI. Contributors include Toby Miller, Charlotte Brunsdon, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Colin McArthur, Ed Buscombe and Pam Cook.

The articles can be accessed free via the SCMS website:


[You may have difficulty accessing this link -- the site owner has been informed of the problem.]

If the problem persists, you should be able to get a PDF version via this link:


20 August 2008

Janet Moat retires

Janet Moat retired last week, after 30 years at the BFI. As curator of Special Collections she brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the management of this internationally renowned resource, providing invaluable help to researchers. BFIwatch wishes her all the best in her new life.

16 July 2008

BFI film centre update

The Guardian carried this snippet of news today about the BFI's projected film centre, apparently due to be open by 2015.

Arts diary

BFI plans gallery of film memorabilia

Francesca Martin
Wednesday July 16, 2008
The Guardian

Where can you see Marilyn Monroe's dress from Some Like It Hot or the first ever script for Coronation Street? Nowhere yet - but the BFI Southbank, which celebrates its 75th birthday this September, is hoping to open a new film centre to house all its TV and film memorabilia by 2015.

As well as a gallery and five cinemas, the film HQ would give the public access to thousands of hours of National Archive film and the opportunity to look at the BFI's posters, letters and scripts. Currently stored in Hertfordshire, the collection includes letters from Alec Guinness while he was filming with David Lean, an annotated early script of Star Wars and Peter Sellers' makeup diary.

"Once we have the green light, we will start a massive fundraising campaign," says Amanda Neville, director of the BFI. "It is vital that we have a centre for everyone to learn about film and film culture."

01 May 2008

Pay cuts at the BFI

From: Amanda Nevill
Sent: 17 April 2008 16:40
To: All BFI Staff
Subject: Message from Amanda


In spite of all our collective endeavours over the last eighteen months, as you know we have not been given an increase in our grant-in-aid, or any cost of living increase. This is very frustrating, but we have to move on and put our energies into pushing harder on a number of opportunities which could resolve the issue longer term.

One of the consequences however is that we have no monies to pass on in the form of a cost of living increase.

Most members of staff are part of a pay scheme that has two methods of potential increase: a cost of living increase (which is dependent on the BFI being able to afford it), and an increment, worth 4%, which is linked to achieving a 'satisfactory' performance. Those at the top of the scale do not receive this incremental increase.

The pay scheme is very new, and at present we have yet to fully agree with the unions how the performance element will be incorporated and implemented. For this year therefore, in the absolute belief that this will be agreed within the next couple of months, we expect to pay the increment.

However, just before we do, we wanted to give you the opportunity to consider the options that exist for disbursement of the reduced pay pot. They are as follows

Option 1 Pay increments in May - eligible staff receive a 4% increase backdated to 1 April 2008.

Option 2 Pay cost of living increase of 2% to all staff, and those eligible receive additional 4% increment in October, not backdated

These are the two options we have put to the Unions.

If no preference is recorded, or option 2 is rejected, then the eligible staff will receive the 4% incremental increase in May (backdated), and no cost of living payments will be made.

It would be really helpful if you could let your unions know which option you would prefer.

Clearly this is not a situation which is sustainable into the next two years and we are working with our new Chair and with the Governors on a plan to address the grant-in-aid shortfall. The Governors agreed at their last meeting that no rash economies should be made until we had greater certainty on a number of critical opportunities - the potential income for a digital strategy, options for other use of our estate and certainty on the Film Centre, and the full potential for further fundraising. Many of the Managers are involved with the Executive in the development of various strands in the plan. We have been tasked with bringing a draft set of options to the Governors away day in July by which time we should have certainty on the critical items.

Disappointing and frustrating as this is to us all, to enter into protracted talks about pay when we simply haven't the funds to offer more than the 4% increment, could be very time consuming. I am really hoping that instead we can put our energies into finding a sensible way forward, which minimises any damaging decisions. To do this we really need to be able to focus our energies on the forward plan, supported by our new Chair and the Governors, as this is the best way that we can start to ensure that a cost of living increase can be achieved for next year.


21 April 2008

Ken Livingstone supports new film centre

With the London mayoral elections looming, Labour candidate and current mayor Ken Livingstone declared his intention today to invest in the capital's cultural life.

Livingstone: I'll build new film centre and protect live music

Paul Waugh
Evening Standard 21.04.08

Ken Livingstone pledged financial backing for a new international film centre on the South Bank today as he unveiled his culture and arts manifesto.

Announcing his plans at the Institute of Contemporary Art, he claimed that over the past eight years London had overtaken New York and Paris to become the most visited by international tourists, "largely because of the vibrancy, dynamism and unparalleled diversity of culture in the capital".

At the launch he was joined by figures from the arts world including singer Billy Bragg, actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah and former Coronation Street star Shobna Gulati.

The new film centre would replace and modernise the existing British Film Institute at the Southbank Centre.

In today's manifesto Mr Livingstone also promised to:

• Supply capital funding for new arts centres
• Change London's planning rules to ensure the protection of live music venues.
• Work with the music industry and venues to establish a music "expo", modelled on festivals such as South by Southwest - the series of concerts, conferences, exhibitions, trade fairs and parties that take place in Austin, Texas, every spring.
• Expand the current programme of free festivals to celebrate more London communities.
• Work with arts organisations to create a major contemporary art event.
• Support a bid for the Gay Games. The international sports and cultural event takes place every four years and the next one is in Cologne in 2010.

Mr Livingstone said that as well as investing in the existing festivals in the capital he had established new institutions and events.

He said: "At the beginning of the 21st century, London is probably the most culturally exciting place on earth - thanks to the the vast depth of the city's heritage and its diverse and outwardfacing character.

"Not only does the city have a 2,000-year history reflected in its museums, art collections, orchestras, opera houses and theatres, it is also the most international city in the contemporary world, placing it at the cutting edge of every new cultural development.

"London's current cultural success is not down to my administration but I strongly believe my policies nurtured an environment in which this success has flourished."

The Mayor argued his policies had generated the character of the city "within which ideas and creativity can develop".

He added" "It also means investing in culture and the cultural infrastructure, and spreading these facilities across the city to all our citizens.

"I believe a strong and dynamic culture is vital to the quality of life of all Londoners and the future economic success of the city."

18 March 2008

Variety reports Anthony Minghella's death

Anthony Minghella dies, 54

Director suffers brain hemorrhage


LONDON — Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director and writer of “The English Patient,” has died suddenly. He was 54.

A spokesman said he suffered a brain hemorrhage at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning at Charing Cross Hospital in London, where he had undergone a routine operation on his neck.

Minghella most recently directed the BBC/HBO telepic “No 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” based on Alexander McCall Smith’s novel set in Botswana, which is due to premiere March 23 on BBC1.

His last movie was “Breaking and Entering.” His other credits include “Cold Mountain,” “The Talented Mr Ripley” and “Truly Madly Deeply.”

He recently stepped down as chairman of the British Film Institute. He was a partner with Sydney Pollack in Mirage Enterprises.

Anthony Minghella dies

BBC News 24 has just reported the sad and shocking news that writer and director Anthony Minghella, who stood down as Chair of the BFI board of governors recently, has died at the age of 54.

12 March 2008

Time Out on Greg Dyke

Dave Calhoun worries about Greg Dyke's impact on the London Film Festival in this week's Time Out:

Greg Dyke and the future of the British Film Institute

Last week, new British Film Institute chairman Greg Dyke gave his first interview in the job. Dave Calhoun bristles at what some of his comments might mean for the London Film Festival

Eyebrows travelled north last month when the coveted chair of the British Film Institute was handed to television executive Greg Dyke, the business brains behind ‘Roland Rat’ and ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. ‘It’s a scandal,’ fumed one filmmaker in an email to me. ‘What the fuck does Dyke know about film?’

Others, myself included, were more measured. The BFI needs a strong leader at a time when the organisation is teetering at a crossroads: the BFI’s subservience to the UK Film Council, the quango that appointed Dyke, is almost a decade old and causing increasing tension. The limited nature of the BFI’s funding is threatening its core activities – research, archiving, preservation, exhibition, publications – at a time when it faces new challenges, not least the need to embrace the digital age. Above all, the BFI needs someone strong enough to realise ambitious plans for a new national film centre to replace BFI Southbank. The BFI needs a big hitter.

So when Dyke was appointed, I thought: Let’s wait and see. He may not have any background in cinema, but his experience both at the BBC and in commercial television might stand him in good stead to raise the estimated £150 million needed for the new film centre. I hoped, too, that someone with Dyke’s organisational experience might be able to argue strongly for the BFI’s cultural role in opposition to the UKFC’s more commercial interests.

Then, last week, a broadly uncritical interview with Dyke in the Times made my heart sink. We learned that Dyke is ‘an average filmgoer’ but not a ‘buff’ (his word). He supports a new national film centre with the proviso that it ‘has to have connections outside London’. He ‘loved’ ‘Atonement’. Alarm bells started to ring when Dyke moved on to the London Film Festival. He wants it to change. ‘London should have a great film festival,’ he said, no doubt pouring worry into the hearts of its current organisers at the BFI.

‘For what it is, the festival is successful,’ he continued. ‘But I think the idea of making it bigger and glitzier is quite attractive. You want the festival to be for buffs and the general public. A glitzier festival is a good idea. It does something for London.’

Why is this so worrying? Mainly because it raises questions about where Dyke is getting his ideas from and, crucially, what he perceives to be the role of the BFI. Firstly, a radical change for the LFF would go against the better advice of those who know the event the best: the people that run it, who, in private, have spent much of the past year listening patiently to the ideas of bodies outside of the BFI, like the UKFC, Film London and the London Development Agency who would all like to see it change (all are funders of the event). Secondly, on what evidence is Dyke, days into the new job, making these suggestions? Is he a regular at the festival and familiar with its programme?

Thirdly, and most worryingly for signs of the direction of his tenureship, his comments seem similar to noises emanating from the UKFC, noises which I’m aware that the current custodians of the LFF at the BFI oppose: that the London Film Festival should become bigger, more populist, and more glamorous and perhaps move its date from October, not for cultural reasons but so that the festival can act as a flag-waver for the British film industry purely in trade terms and so that distributors can gain more mileage from its programme.

This isn’t supposition. Andrew Eaton, Michael Winterbottom’s producer and deputy chair of the UKFC, told me last year that he thought the festival should move to June. Sources tell me that the UKFC has also suggested that January might work, a suggestion which shows a woeful ignorance of the festival’s current ability to programme films with autumn release dates and potential to win awards. Looking back at last year’s line-up, such a move to January (or July) would have excluded ‘Eastern Promises’, ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, ‘Juno’, ‘Lust, Caution’, ‘I’m Not There’ and ‘Into the Wild’. These sorts of films don’t come round twice a year. Such proposals suggest that programming – the bread and butter of any good festival – hasn’t come into the equation at all.

If a change of date means a better festival, so be it. But the reasoning for a new January or June date for the LFF seems almost entirely based on when other international festivals take place – festivals attended by industry folk. Which means that the London audience counts for nothing. This makes Dyke’s recourse to the idea of a festival for the ‘public’ as well as for ‘buffs’ null and void. Why should the public care if the LFF happened the same month as Cannes or Venice? The public wants exactly what the festival offers: interesting films, well picked.

The idea has also been doing the rounds that the LFF should become competitive. Again, the only reason for this would be to raise the festival’s profile within the industry and to shine a light on the city. Leaving aside the question of whether there would be enough good titles to justify another competitive festival, the public – the ‘buffs’ of whom Dyke speaks – have no cause to care whether there are awards or not. An audience wants interesting films; the festival’s healthy ticket sales suggest punters are getting just that.

Which leads to the most disturbing element of Dyke’s comments: his sneering at the idea of a festival for ‘buffs’. Would anyone dispute a sporting event being for lovers of sport? Or the Proms being for lovers of music? Why separate the ‘public’ and ‘buffs’? It smacks of the very philistinism – that cinema should not be seen as an art or an intellectual pursuit – that the BFI exists to defy.

The LFF is not elitist or unpopular. It sells out. It plays a mix of art house and popular work. Last year, Tom Cruise, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody all turned up. More mainstream films – and there are plenty – would be at the expense of more difficult work. In fact, they would reason the event out of existence; what justification is there for the BFI – a publicly-funded body – to be putting money towards films that would survive in the marketplace?

Dyke needs to show more independence of thought and more understanding of why the BFI and the LFF exist. His role is a cultural one. He has no right to let the LFF become a postcard for the city, like the New Year’s Eve fireworks, or an advert aimed at foreign producers, or a marketing tool for studios and distributors. The LFF is a cultural institution and should be left well alone for London audiences – the buffs – who enjoy it in droves every year.

The article and reader comments can be found at:

Greg Dyke And The Future Of The British Film Institute - Time Out London - Time Out London