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Article published in the British Universities Film and Video Council VIEWfinder magazine

Following a recent award from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), a new AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies is to be established. Its Director, Laura Mulvey, describes the research centre's focus on archival collections and media policy.

In the recent Research Centres Competition organised by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), a combined proposal from seven universities received an award to establish an AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies. The AHRB is the major funding body for Arts and Humanities research in the UK, providing a range of awards from postgraduate to large, advanced projects. The Research Centres Scheme is a new initiative that encourages both co-operation between institutions and the circulation of research in the academic community more generally. In the first year of the competition, out of a total of 145 applications, ten research centres received awards and it is obviously of the greatest importance that film and television research has been included. Although some research fellowships are already allocated, the centre will be advertising for senior and junior research fellows over the next five years. We hope that this co-ordinated work will provide additional impetus to the film and media studies community and succeed in opening out new areas of academic interest and investigation that will benefit future researchers.

Film and television are comparative newcomers in the British academic field, film studies having only existed at university level since the 1970s. In the very particular climate of British cinephilia that influenced the development of film studies at academic level, recuperating Hollywood and taking its cinema seriously dominated the agenda. Academic interest in British film, and television as such, lagged behind and these were perhaps, for some time, underdogs in their own country. Of course, a considerable and distinguished body of scholarship has accumulated since, opening up the history of the British cinema, identifying and debating its aesthetics and analysing the fascinating and unusual conditions surrounding its chequered industrial history. Although very important inroads have been made into the study of British television, its particular significance, both in terms of media history and the programmes it produced, leave a rich and exciting area for further and, in particular, archival development. The AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies should provide a great opportunity for consolidation and co-ordination across the board. I am grateful to Viewfinder for inviting me, as its Director, to give some background to the centre's main preoccupations and elaborate a little on its projects, even though we are in early stages.

Broadly speaking, the centre's initial research plan addresses two main issues. The first is primarily historical and focuses on archival collections. If our research is going to open out new areas of scholarship, the use of collections is a key consideration. For archives, at this present moment, the issue of academic, and other, access is also of the essence. The centre intends to foster a two-way traffic between the communities, especially looking for innovative and unexpected uses for forgotten or neglected archival material. The second issue that the centre will address is primarily contemporary and focuses on government policy and the cultural and economic priorities embodied in forthcoming communications legislation.

At this point in British media history, there is an opportunity for fruitful collaboration on media policy between the academic community and media professionals. Not only should an academic perspective illuminate policy issues but academics are able offer an invaluable historical dimension to questions relating to British media policy, particularly those involving the success or failure of British media exports and provision for diverse UK audiences. Once again, the centre envisages a two-way traffic between two communities.

The centre's underlying emphases emerged out of the process of application to the AHRB and its suggestion, at short-list stage, that two originally separate proposals should amalgamate. One proposal, with Sheffield Hallam University as lead institution, focused particularly on policy issues. The other, with Birkbeck College as lead institution, focused on the role of film and television archives in historical research. The University of Ulster, Coleraine, was a research partner in both proposals and the other partners from the Birkbeck proposal are: South East Film and Video Archive at the University of Brighton, the Bill Douglas Centre at the University of Exeter, Central St Martin's College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art. The British Film Institute's collaboration, as a non-higher education institution partner, is vital due to the significance of the National Film and Television Archive and the institute's history as the prime promoter of film education as well as the accumulated knowledge and skills of its personnel.

At first, the task of amalgamating these two projects, and the number of institutions involved, seemed daunting. But as discussions continued, more and more areas of common interest emerged. It rapidly became apparent that dialogue between seemingly divergent areas of academic interest could prove to be suprisingly and satisfyingly productive. The kind of cross-fertilisation of ideas that we were experiencing would clearly be something that the centre should aim to offer to the wider research community. Questions to do with both policy and archiving began to interweave across the various individual project strands, providing a strong material base for the centre's aims as a whole. For instance, historical research is necessary to inform contemporary policy and issues in contemporary policy may send us into the archive with new questions to ask about audio-visual production. With these research issues providing a general backdrop to the centre's formation, our initial research plan falls into three broad categories with interconnections criss-crossing the whole and leading out to suggest further projects for future development.

To give a clearer indication of the centre's projects, I would like to mention some in greater detail. There will be a strand of policy-related research, under the leadership of Professor Sylvia Harvey at Sheffield Hallam University, that will examine the 'indigenous' and the exportable in British film and media. While aiming to contribute to the policy climate informing the preparation of new British communications legislation, it will also review the history of state intervention in and regulation of film and television industries. But it will also give particular attention to the long-standing and current debates about the nature of the 'indigenous' and consider its significance within the contemporary context of global and rapidly changing media industries.

Frank Gray, South East Film and Video Archive, University of Brighton, will lead an assessment of the role of regional archives in film and media history, aiming not only to map the present situation but to initiate discussions into their further use for academics, expanding the constituency beyond those concerned with primarily with film and other media. Questions of policy and funding also arise here.

At the University of Ulster, Coleraine, Martin McLoone and Professor John Hill are extending the questions raised by the concept of the 'indigenous' through an historical analysis of British film and broadcasting policy in Northern Ireland since 1922 as well as an assessment of the impact of new contexts and configurations, particularly the European.

Another research strand, under the leadership of Professor Malcolm Le Grice, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, brings together questions of policy for archiving within the context of British avant-garde and experimental film since 1960. David Curtis, recently retired after more than 20 years as Film Officer at The Arts Council of Great Britain/Arts Council of England, will work as a senior research fellow specifically on the archiving of British avant-garde and experimental film, in co-ordination with the Lux Cinema and London Film and Video Arts. A junior research fellow will pursue the history of state policy and funding towards the sector, while Professor Le Grice will consider the questions of technology and aesthetics posed by the rapprochement between gallery art and the moving image. Research staff and students at the Royal College of Art, under the leadership of Al Rees, will contribute to archival studies of film and video art. They will also explore ways in which contemporary artists can contribute to and expand our strategies for conferences, seminars and other forms of exhibition.

Alongside these projects, I will be responsible for a research strand that will investigate the more experimental television of the 1960s, attempting to build up cross-references between innovations in both film and television at the time. In tandem with research into the early British film industry, led by Professor Ian Christie at Birkbeck College, Duncan Petrie, Director of the Bill Douglas Centre, University of Exeter, will lead an investigation of large-screen projection formats and their legacy through the history of cinema.

These are some of the projects included in the centre's plan for its first five years; they will generate seminars, conferences, exhibitions and publications as well as feeding into the centre's website. However, if the centre succeeds in its main - to establish a major visible framework for research on British film and television - it should be well placed to continue its activity beyond the initial first five years of AHRB funding. It is to be hoped that the centre's colloquia and special events will be of interest to and actively involve those working in relevant fields, both nationally and internationally.

During its first phase, the centre should provide intellectual and academic stimulus to research novel, underdeveloped or hitherto ignored areas of film and television history and policy. Its work should involve a certain amount of 'mapping of the field' but it should also encourage innovative methodologies so that new kinds of research questions may be articulated. Through its work on archives, new areas of knowledge may be opened up. Furthermore, films and television programmes that are, at the moment, invisible may be brought to the 'surface' and find a new visibility both through academic discussion and on the screen.

Information on the AHRB Research Centre Awards can be found at: www.ahrb.ac.uk/newsevents/index.htm



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