The film scholar and film educationalist Jim Hillier has died after a long illness. He was the first film teacher I met and my experience of a week of seminars studying the opening to Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie at the BFI Summer School in Stirling in 1974 was the start of my formal engagement with film. At that time Jim was the Deputy Head of the ‘Educational Advisory Service’ of the British Film Institute at their old offices in Dean Street and in a key position to help kickstart film education in schools and colleges in the UK. What struck me then was how open and welcoming he was towards young teachers and what a difference his approach represented compared to some of the university teachers I had encountered a few years previously. Jim’s enthusiasm for film was infectious and I remember his stories about cycling across London to visit obscure suburban cinemas, soon to shut down, in the hope of seeing films by important directors which he had missed first time around.
In 1975 Jim Hillier was one of a group scholars and teachers responsible for the revival of the journal Movie which had first been published in 1962 but had suffered two interruptions since then. The others involved comprised Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, Michael Walker and Ian Cameron and the first new volume carried articles by Doug Pye and Charles Barr. Movie didn’t survive in its third incarnation for very long but it provided a different take on the emerging field of film studies to that coming from Screen in the mid-1970s, providing examples of close reading of texts and leading the UK analysis of American cinema in particular. Jim Hillier was also on the boards of Screen and Screen Education at this point and also already a published author, having written Studies in Documentary with his colleague Alan Lovell for the Cinema One series in 1972. As a film scholar, Jim had many interests as demonstrated by some of the other titles in his impressive list of publications. The two volumes of selected translations of articles from Cahiers du Cinéma that he edited over many years and which emerged in 1985-6 and New Hollywood (1993 Studio Vista) represent essential resources for any film student. Later he co-authored The Film Studies Dictionary (Arnold 2001) with Steve Blandford and Barry Keith Grant and three of the BFI’s ‘100 Films’ Series with Alistair Phillips (Film Noirs, 2009), Barry Keith Grant (Documentaries, 2009) and Doug Pye (Film Musicals, 2011). Somehow he also found time to edit the BFI collection Howard Hawks: American Artist with Peter Wollen (1997) and the Sight and Sound Reader on American Independent Cinema in 2008.
That first book on Studies in Documentary in 1972 arose from Jim’s experience of the BFI/London University Extra-Mural Film Studies courses, the training ground for many later film teachers (and which eventually became the basis for Birkbeck College’s film and media degree programme). In 1979 I was invited to teach an Extra-Mural class with Jim. From him I learned the pleasures and great strengths of team teaching and I was also introduced to several of his less well-known film interests such as the avant-garde films of Jon Jost and both popular Hindi cinema in the form of Guru Dutt and the parallel cinema of Kumar Shahani. I taught again with him in 1987 and it was noticeable that despite his writing activities he still had the enthusiasm to offer the introductory courses in the programme. Working for the ILEA (Inner Education Authority) I was also aware of Jim’s part in the development of the ILEA Sixth Form Film Project, one of the first attempts to put film education into practice on a large scale across Inner London schools. Jim was involved in the development of the first GCE O Level in film in the early 1970s and then later the A Level in Film Studies in the 1990s. When Jim took up a post at Bulmershe College in Reading (which eventually became part of Reading University) he became a greatly respected and much-loved university teacher. The tributes on this blog with contributions from Doug Pye and other colleagues and students attest to the impact he had as tutor and scholar. It seems fitting that at the time of his death, Jim Hillier was still listed as a guest at the Midnight Film Festival in Finland, June 2014. Finnish Cinema was another of his interests and he had first written on New Cinema in Finland in 1972. Jim’s combination of inspirational teacher and scholar across so many different forms of cinema is rare and deserves to be long remembered.
After promising ‘soon’ for several months the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has finally posted the above on its Web Pages. But the BFI WebPages have not even noted this yet!
The BFI Governors [and managers] saw a preliminary report back in April. Now 122 pages are there for Joe Public to read. The report is thorough, though not always easy reading. It does supply an awful amount of information, including interesting details about the BFI and its work and background information.
My main concern in recent posts has been about the membership and the accountability of the Board of Governors. A summary reads:
5.10 The Review Team therefore concluded that the Royal Charter should be amended to give the Secretary of State power of appointment of the Chair and the non-executive Board members. The Review Team also noted that under Article 14 of the Royal Charter Members, Associate Members and Student Members have the right to put forward a list of individuals in order of preference which the Governing Body shall consider for appointment as a Governor, in a manner as determined by the Governing Body. No changes are proposed to this provision.
At different points in the document the references are either to ‘post’ or ‘post/s; Given that the Board of Governors will ‘determine’ this process, it sounds like there is going to be little change. Giving the Secretary of State the power to select and appoint Governors is likely to be a change for worse. Meanwhile there is also the recommendation that will increase ‘commercial’ interests, ‘diversity’ and regional representation. The latter two could be positive but the overriding concern is summed up:
One of the key recommendations made in this Review is the development of a Business Development Strategy, focused on establishing a new commercial model which will optimise the value of the BFI’s various assets, and identify new ways to increase income from private sources. Once established, this Strategy should help reduce dependency on Grant-in-Aid Department for Culture, Media & Sport.
The Review also recommends that the BFI conducts a cost benefit analysis of the BFI London Film Festival, setting out options for increasing sponsorship levels and for a new commercial model of delivery building on international best practice. Such a ‘commercial’ emphasis in unsurprising but does not bode well for the future.
There is detail about people who took the time to comment. The largest group were stakeholders – I had a moment of frisson as I imagined a sequence from an old Hammer movie. There were quite a number who completed the online comment form. No mention is made of the problems that people reported in either accessing or completing this.
There were four letters sent by the traditional Royal Mail, [one was mine]. All made comments in support of the Member Governors, but, judging by the report, without any effect.
There were two problematic omissions. The Report frequently mentions ‘regions’, which include Scotland and Wales [separate nations] and northern Ireland [occupied territory]. But there is no sign of any investigation into how effectively BFI resources are spread right across the British State. Something that I believe would demonstrate sizeable anomalies.
And the Report also referred to different media – film, television, video, online products – but again there does not seem to have been any investigation into the effectiveness of these areas. There is certainly no sign of any discussion of the different virtues of these.
I think it is a fairly typical product of the UK state systems. I certainly do not think there is going to be any improvement in the way that the BFI is accountable to ordinary film viewers who both contribute to its funding and use [as far as possible] its provision.
Life is getting more difficult for those of us who try to follow the Activities of the Board of Governors charged with supervising the work of the British Film Institute. It seems the only source of information these days is the Minutes of Governors meetings. The occasional Press Release offers extremely selective information. The Members Board at the National Film Theatre is either gone or fallen into disuse. And all that appears on the Web Pages are the Minutes and the occasional Press Release.
And the process is slow if not worse. The Minutes for the April meeting this year only made it onto the Web Pages in August. And now it has been pointed out to me that the minutes for February 2012 actually display the Minutes for February 2011. Apparently this was raised with the Governor Office some time ago but they have still not got round to correcting the error.
The minutes are not a completely satisfactory record. They do provide some useful information, as in this case;
Also noted were the interests of most Governors in different aspects of the film industry and various related parties. It was agreed that the nature of these interests was such that none of these Governors would be required to leave the room during the meeting.
So the Governors are able to ‘mark their own work’, something the establishment finds anathema when it involves students in the Education system.
These minutes also contain the Board’s decision regarding the sole remaining Representative of Members.
The Board welcomed Peter Kominsky who was appointed as a Member Governor on 27 January 2012. The Chair noted that notwithstanding the fact that less than ten percent of BFI members participated in the election, the Governors had unanimously accepted his recommendation that Peter be appointed to the Board.
For an unexplained reason the Governors on this occasion decided to appoint regardless of their own ruling regarding the required percentage of the vote: but in 2012 they restricted Cy to a one-year term: and then in the next election they decided to implement that ruling. This is an unexplained anomaly. A further anomaly is the interpretation that the election for a new representative will now be in February 2015, regardless of the three year term actually running out this autumn.
As you are aware, Peter Kosminsky is the member Governor on the Board. His term does not expire until February 2015.
It is difficult to believe that the Governors give much notice to the views of the members and users. There is no record of any discussion of the complaints from some members regarding the vacant Members’ Representative Post. My colleague Roy has commented elsewhere on the dominance on the Board of the metropolitan establishment. Apart from records of attendance it is a difficult to find out if the current representative Peter Kominsky contributes in any way to meetings. There is no record of him taking a stance on the question of the vacant Representative post, despite the diminution of democracy this involved. And whilst some of his predecessors did make an effort to report back to the electorate apparently he has failed to do this.
The Board Secretary advised that regarding any communications:
I have received a response from Mr Kosminsky. He has requested that any issues are relayed through me. [i.e. the Board Secretary].
And regarding any report back to the electorate
To my knowledge Mr Kosminsky does not prepare reports of the type that you refer to.
Earlier this year the Department for Media, Culture and Sport held a Triennial Review of the BFI. The April meeting of the Board of Governors received an outline of the report’s conclusions.
Amanda Nevill thanked the Governors who had already met with the Review Team. The initial key findings were outlined and it was agreed that they were positive. The Review Team was still gathering evidence and would be meeting with the Challenge Panel on 18 June.
However Joe Public is still in the dark. For at least three months the Department’s Web Pages have promised that the finding will appear ‘soon’.
We are analysing your feedback. Visit this page again soon to download the outcome to this public feedback.
I have sent the Department a number of emails enquiring about this, but I am still waiting for the information.
Still there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Since the election for a new Member representative will not be until 2015 there is time for the Board of Governors to organise an election both for the Regional Representative and for the vacant National Representative. Costs were one factor cited when the Governors discussed elections earlier. But presumably have two posts up for election rather than one should have minimal effect on the cost of the process.
My experience of the Board of Governors to date is that they display little interest in such representation. So it will require pressure in order to produce this. For what it is worth I have written to the Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Media & Sport where the responsibility for the BFI and for the Governors resides. I think it is worth considering raising this issue, including having an election for both Members’ Representatives. The next meeting of the Board is on 24th September: presumably they should discuss the issue then.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is conducting a review of the BFI, this happens every three years. There is a window for public comment and consultation, open until April 28th. I thought some readers might be interested in the comments that I have sent in.
To The Secretary of State
I am writing to you with comments for the Triennial Review being undertaken with regard to the British Film Institute. First of all I wanted to express concerns about the publicising of the review. I only found out about it when a colleague sent me a link to the Department WebPages. I looked on the BFI WebPages – there is information there but you don’t find it be entering ‘Triennial’ or ‘Review’ in the search function. You have to track it down.
Regarding the Board of Governors the BFI should now review as promised its new rules for the conduct of Member Governor Elections. These were introduced about three years ago and have resulted in three failed polls and finally, in 2013, in the temporary (or permanent?) removal of one of the two Member Governor posts. At the present time the Board has given no indication as to what will happen when the one remaining “regional” Member Governor’s term expires this September. Members are justifiably concerned that their views are neither heard nor properly represented.
Here too the BFI has not given enough attention to providing information. They regularly issue Press Releases when new Governors are appointed. There seem to have been no Press Releases about the removal of a Member Governor Post. And the only source which provides complete information on this are the Minutes. A notice posted on the WebPages does not clearly explain what the Governors decided
There are also serious problems regarding BFI membership. The benefits of membership have been steadily reduced over the years and now it is only relevant to people with easy access to London. Like other voters I am able to be involved as a subscriber to Sight & Sound. However, we are not able to access the members’ pages on the BFI Website: and the only alternative source of information is a notice board at the National Film Theatres: in other words you need to be in or visit London. The BFI needs a membership system that is relevant to people all over the UK, as it funding comes from all over the UK.
The Board of Governors seems to be almost entirely composed of people who live and work in London. And presumably this is true of most of the BFI staff. This seems to have a negative impact on the provision outside of London in the Regions. To give a specific example: when the Hitchcock silent films were restored with new prints the circular from the BFI advertised both 35 mm prints and DCPs. However, in West Yorkshire exhibitors who have attempted to screen 35mm rather than digital have not been able to obtain prints for this. Yet all nine of these new prints were shipped to Italy for a Festival there. The audience were told that the BFI ‘really wanted to screen the films on 35 mm at the Festival.’ They do not seem to have the same interest for the audiences whose taxation pays for most of the resources of the Institute and the Archives.
I think proper representation of members on the Board of Governors and a more representative membership would be the best way to address the concerns I have presented.
Of course, opinions about how effective such a consultation is will vary. However, given that the Management and Governors of the BFI display little interest in the views of the ordinary punters who cough up the cash, it is ‘worth a shout’.