Category: BFI

Representation and the BFI Board of Governors

Who do they actually represent?

Who do they actually represent?

I have posted on this issue before. Currently the Board of Governors which overlooks the work of the British Film Institute should include two representatives elected by members of the BFI and regular subscribers to Sight & Sound. The latter addition presumably reflects the situation where bfi membership is only relevant to people who can easily and regularly access the South Bank in the metropolis. The Triennial Review last year by the Department for Sport, Art and Culture re-affirmed the point of having member’s representatives.

However, for a couple of years now one of the two posts has been vacant. The official explanation is that the election turnout failed to meet a requirement for a certain percentage of voters. Given that the only other group who suffer such a percentage rule are Trade Unions this looks like one of those establishment rules that favour the status quo. It is ironic that as travel and communications become easier the fences round elites become higher and more impenetrable.

This latter point would appear to apply to the sole remaining elected representative on the Board. This is the filmmaker Peter Kosminsky. However, the only way to contact him is through the Board Secretary and in three year tenure I believe we have not had a single report or response from his for the electors. I should add that the Board took a different tack regarding his election:

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.

[Minutes February 2012].

It would be interesting to have the Chair provide an explanation for this.

Now it seems that the BFI establishment are trying to cement this unsatisfactory situation. The election for a Regional Representative was held in the autumn three years ago. When I inquired last autumn when we would hear about an election I was advised by the secretary that the election would be at the beginning of 2015, the date when Kosminsky first attended a Board Meeting. This sleight of hand meant that he would supposedly be representing members after the expiry of his term of office.

However, it gets worse. There is no sign of any election in the offing. Repeated inquiries to the Board Secretary regarding this issue have gone unanswered. I don’t think that is an email problem: a contact has experienced the same problem.

Mark Newell has also raised the issue [so far also with a response] pointing out,

If Peter Kosminsky’s term has not been temporarily extended by the Board, members are now in the position of having no representation at all.

It is my strong impression that the current management are loathed to have their conduct of the BFI closely scrutinised by the hoi polloi. They certainly show no interest in correcting the current absence of proper representation. And given the Board membership is dominated by members of the metropolitan elite, they probably think the same way.

The electorate for these representatives appear to be quiescent. Apparently only four individuals contributed comments to the Triennial review. This is unsurprising. Presumably the bulk of people who take out BFI membership do so to access the Southbank and its facilities. The situation for S&S subscribers is probably similar. In fact we need a radical overhaul of membership and voting rights regarding the BFI. However, as is the case with most elites, it will require popular pressure to produce action. Any readers who agree with this could consider that. I am writing to the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport regarding this issue. However I am not holding my breath. On the last occasion I did not receive even an acknowledgement.

Meanwhile Mark |Newell also pointed out a rather ominous entry in the last minutes to be published, September 2014:

A Challenge – How Much More Could We Generate?

3.5 The BFI was being challenged to reduce dependency on Grant in Aid (GiA) in the medium to long term. The Board noted that the Executive had begun meeting this challenge head on setting targets for net income growth 2020.

3.6 David Parkhill outlined that to get a better understanding of the BFI’s capacity and aptitude to increase income, four task groups had been created to examine four areas with potential for business growth in detail. The areas of potential business growth were discussed. The Board noted that the risks associated with each initiative had not yet been properly refined and that the figures specified remained headline at present.

 

Jim Hillier 1941-2014

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.

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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.

NewHollywoodFilmStudiesDict

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.

Report on the BFI Triennial Review

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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.

More on the BFI Board of Governors

Three fortunates who did get a BFI Press Release.

Three fortunates who did get a BFI Press Release.

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’.

Department for Culture, Media & Sport -

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.