Response to the British Film Institute’s consultation document: A Good Time for Action.
Submitted by Sylvia Harvey and Margaret Dickinson, 20 February, 2004

Feedback to the British Film Institute from the University of Lincoln, AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies

Sylvia Harvey
Principal Associate Director

Margaret Dickinson
Senior Research Fellow

20 February 2004

General Observation.

We have found the consultation document difficult to respond to as the objectives are worded in a rather abstract way and the document does not state how they relate to the existing activities of the BFI.

Objective 1

1. In exhibition we would hope to see the development of existing services and support provided to independent exhibitors and film societies and to organisations or individuals trying to open new venues, both traditional and non traditional. We think the work should include initiatives to develop exhibition in rural areas. We would encourage the BFI to work with the RSAs to provide additional perspectives. The priority should be to support independent exhibition and community based initiatives for screenings in non traditional venues. While we would welcome arrangements to encourage circuit cinemas and multiplexes to programme a wider range of product we are doubtful about the wisdom of using public funds for this purpose. Past experience suggests that the central management of such venues will be a bar to any significant or long term involvement by local communities in programming or use of facilities.

For scholarship and research a key resource is the BFI library. A major step in making this resource accessible to those outside London would be to put the SIFT database on the internet. If this is technically or financially not possible in the near future consideration should be given to establishing more access points outside London. (We understand at present there are only three such access points.)

BFI publications makes an important contribution nationwide particularly by publishing a range of specialist material which might not find publishers in the general market. We hope the BFI will develop its publishing work, improve contact with the regions and seek to improve distribution of its books in the regions and in London. A useful contribution in the past were the policy monographs which inevitably involved high subsidy but also had high impact. We think the BFI should consider producing new ones when major policy issues are being debated.

2. The BFI is one of our partners and we value its presence on our Advisory Board. We will continue to contribute to the knowledge of contemporary and past cinema through out research. We can contribute to staff development and help unlock research expertise. We are contributing to the national/regional archive strategy.

3. We need more information to respond to this. Extending curatorial concern outside London would be welcome.

4. We think the BFI can play a major role in extending specialist exhibition. It is already providing important support and should push for a national strategy to create more independent venues.

One of the BFI services which is of equal value to those based anywhere in the UK is its on-line guide to purchasing videos and DVDs. We think the list of suppliers on the web site could be improved to include more specialist sources. (For example the RAI library and companies like Amber which distribute their own productions.) At present it requires specialist knowledge to obtain films other than cinema features and the BFI could provide a comprehensive guide. The BFI might also consider developing, in partnership with filmmakers, existing specialist distributors and documentary related initiatives like Dochouse and the Sheffield Festival, a documentary collection of videos/DVDs with an international content and including a strong body of contemporary work.

5. The BFI should look for opportunities in all areas of its work to involve young people and parents , teachers, youth workers. We think it should seek to avoid a rigid separation of events for children/young people from its other work and should encourage young people to use its general services and, as far as possible, remove barriers to them doing this. The BFI has a long-standing brief to promote media literacy and should develop its work in this field while recognising that it is now one of many providers. It should take a leading role, supporting others in the field, conducting research and developing new methods.

Objective 2

6. It is difficult to respond without more indication as to what a cultural trading division would do.

7. Again it is difficult to answer without more information. The BFI already sells books and VHS/DVDs and stills. The National Film and TV Archive sells footage. Is the proposal to organise existing sales better or to sell other products? Certainly the brief should be to support the main purpose of the BFI, which we think is to play an analytical, critical role in relation to cinema and television, to support scholarship and encourage public engagement with the results of the scholarship, to encourage the public to develop their understanding and enjoyment of cinema.

8. We would be interested to see the market research on which plans for BFI trading are based. There are opportunities to make more available films and film related materials which the BFI owns but we are doubtful as to whether doing this would generate net revenue as the costs are likely to be high. The aim of better marketing and increasing revenue from sales should not be allowed to conflict with the BFI core purpose.

Objective 3

9. We are not sure if we have correctly interpreted objective 3. If the issue is raising the profile abroad of British Films and TV in a wider context than the export of recent successful product then we agree that this work needs to be done but it would be important to do co-operate with the British Council and UK Film Council which currently have responsibility to promote British film abroad.

10. Given that the regions and nations of the UK have long argued that the BFI is too London centred we think that investing in new infrastructure in London is not appropriate at the moment.

The National Film and Television Archive

11. We understand that the National Film and Television Archive has a serious back log of work in cataloguing and restoring acquisitions. We would like to see it able to advance with these core tasks. As mentioned under 2 we are contributing to the national/regional archive strategy.

12. We would welcome better exploitation of BFI preserved material for exhibition and distribution but we consider an even higher priority is to increase access to viewing, to increase the amount of material for which viewing material exists. One form that exploitation for distribution could take - a development of work the BFI has been doing on a small scale - would be curating collections of related material for release on video/DVD. Similarly it could develop the practice of curating archive based programmes for the NFT and out of London venues and these could be linked with the production of videos/DVDs Depending on the subjects areas we could help with advice and research.

13. Major obstacles include the cost of producing viewing or duplicating material from preservation copies and the problem of clearing rights. There are also difficulties relating to potential markets. Selling to the public requires extensive publicity and preferably at least some conventional retail outlets in addition to internet sales. In theory schools could benefit from using archive material in the teaching of many subjects, most obviously history, English, media studies, politics, art history. However the rigidity of the curriculum and shortage of funds for teaching materials present barriers to developing this potential. Universities could also benefit from such material but despite the good work done by the BUFVC many lecturers are resistant to working with visual material, partly for cultural reasons and partly because projection equipment is not yet routinely available in all teaching rooms and when it is available, although theoretically user friendly, in practice often proves difficult to operate. Funds for hiring/buying the tapes/DVDs may not be available or if they are, may require time-consuming bureaucracy to access.

14. The BFI needs to be confident in its distinctive critical, analytical function and determined to make this increasingly relevant to the public, film/tv professionals and teachers throughout the UK and abroad. Any structural changes should enhance this core work.



Sylvia Harvey
Professor of Broadcasting Policy
Principal Associate Director
AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies
Faculty of Media and Humanities
University of Lincoln
Brayford Pool
Lincoln LN6 7TS

Tel: 01522 886431


Margaret Dickinson
Senior Research Fellow



Last modified 2 August, 2004 ;