Category: BFI

‘Southbankgate?’

bfi-filmforever

The lifetime of the Governors?

 

The Board of Governors for the BFI is supposed to include two members who represent the ordinary users. As regular readers will know there is currently only one representative, and for some of us there is not much sign of representation by him. Action on this is overdue.  In informing interested people the Board appear to follow the well-worn tactic of bureaucracies, stonewalling. Since a fresh election is overdue I have emailed a number of requests to the Board office asking for explanation. There has been a paucity of replies: this might be down to someone having read my earlier postings. However, a colleague has had the same problem, so I don’t think it is just personal.

Now, at last, the Board Secretary has sent me a response: the main information is as shown below:

I refer to your query in relation to any possible arrangements for the election of a Member Governor in 2015.
In September 2014 the DCMS published the results of the first BFI Triennial Review since BFI became the lead public body for film in 2011.   The report was a strong endorsement of the work of the BFI.  It acknowledged the important contribution the BFI makes to supporting and enabling the UK film industry and it recognised the benefits that come from bringing the cultural and commercial expertise for film under one organisation. The Review proposed changes to the process of appointment of the Chairman and Governors.  While the BFI considers the new process of appointment for the Chair and Governors, including the implications for the Royal Charter, the Board in consultation with DCMS, has extended the term of the current Member Governor, Peter Kosminsky, for one year.

This response begs quite a few questions. The Triennial Review actually stated the following:

Governance and Appointments

  1. The BFI Chair is appointed by the Secretary of State and that the appointment is regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA).

  2. The BFI Board members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the appointments made in accordance with OCPA principles, to be implemented as vacancies arise on the Board (with the exception of the Member Governor post(s)).

Clearly proceeding with changes stemming from the Review does not necessitate postponing the election of Member Governors. Apart from any prejudices among the Governors and management, there is at least one other possible factor. Revisiting the Review I noticed the following:

5.15 Cabinet Office guidance on good corporate governance recommends a majority of non-executive Board members come from the commercial private sector, with experience in running complex organisations. In the BFI’s case, such expertise would not need to be limited to the creative sector.

As far as I can make out this process of Triennial Reviews was introduced in 2011. So it clearly bears the hallmarks of the current political illusion that ‘commerce’ always knows best. The period of austerity has actually demonstrated that this social group is driven by self-interest than any commitment to wider interests

Moreover this line conflicts with other pronouncements regarding the BFI and its predecessor The Film Council. These would include supporting British independent filmmaking: supporting young filmmakers: supporting diversity: supporting films of aesthetic or documentary value: supporting access to the wider world cinema. Indeed the Review document contains such contradictory statements. The BFI and DCMS review the size and make-up of the Board with a focus on increasing the diversity of the Board through future appointments. They mention women and ethnic minorities. There appears to be no mention of working class representation or audience members. The current Board members listed on the BFI Website are: [note, amount of detail varies for individuals]

Greg Dyke became Chair of the BFI in March 2008. Formerly Director-General of the BBC, Greg is also Chairman of the Football Association and Chancellor of the University of York.

Josh Berger is President and Managing Director, Warner Bros. Entertainment UK, Ireland and Spain.

Pat Butler is a partner at the Resolution Group and an expert in corporate and business strategy, operations and performance improvement.

Charles Cecil is a video game designer and co-founder of Revolution Software. In 2011 he was awarded an MBE for services to the computer games industry.

Alison Cornwell is Group Chief Financial Officer of Vue Entertainment International. She qualified as a chartered accountant in 1990 and spent 5 years in corporate finance before joining Disney’s International TV business. At Disney, In 2005 Alison left Disney to become CFO of private equity backed Sparrowhawk Media which acquired the international assets of Crown Media Holdings. In 2008 Alison was appointed CFO of the international film distribution company, Alliance Films.

Pete Czernin lived and worked in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years for a number of production companies and studios. In 2005 he partnered with Graham Broadbent and set up Blueprint Pictures, a London-based feature film production company.

Ashley Highfield is CEO of Johnston Press. Previously he has held high-level posts at Microsoft and the BBC.

Tom Hooper is an Oscar-winning film director. His features include Les Misérables, The King’s Speech and The Damned United.

Matthew Justice is currently Managing Director of Big Talk, the multi award-winning film and television production company.

Oona King, Baroness King of Bow, is a member of the House of Lords. She is a writer, broadcaster and political campaigner and a Diversity Executive at Channel 4.

Peter Kosminsky is an award-winning writer and director behind some of the most important and revelatory television of the past three decades.

Timothy Richards is the CEO of Vue Entertainment, which boasts over 66 million annual admissions from 1319 screens in 145 state-of-the-art cinemas worldwide.

Jonathan Ross OBE is a mainstay of British television and radio, rarely off the airwaves either as a presenter or as a host of his own distinctive style of celebrity guest interviews.

Lisbeth Savill [Deputy Chair] is a partner in the law firm Latham and Watkin’s London office in the firm’s Entertainment, Sports and Media Practice.

Andrea Wong is President of International Production for Sony Pictures Television (SPT) and President of International for Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE).

One of the least diverse sections of British society is found in the leadership of the commercial sector, as women’s and ethnic groups frequently point out. Moreover by definition when one becomes a leader in commercial enterprise one ceases [if one ever was] to be working class. The list indicates that it is only from the higher end of this sector that appointments are made. So there are no representatives from the Trade Unions or from the UK Film Societies, who actually have a national presence. Senior Managers attend Board Meetings: note though there is no reference to a representative of the BFI staff.

This emphasis follows on from another recommendation:

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.

This seems to me a staging post on the way to privatisation: though this view was roundly criticised at a recent Film Society Federation meeting. But the example in other sectors, including in the arts and culture, suggest that this is part of just such a process.

What makes the situation worse is the apparent inactivity of the current representative. With the honourable exception of Cy Young, these elected representatives have never appeared that interested in representation. Evan so Peter Kosminsky would appear to put his predecessors in the shade. As far as I can make out he has not issued a single report during three years to the people who elected him. He will only accept communications through the Board office. And he does not reply even to these communications: certainly not either to me or to a colleague who I checked with. And I have searched the minutes in vain for some comment by him: only his name in the list of attendees.

A colleague helped by unearthing his statement and manifesto for the 2011 election. In fairness to him it should be admitted that he makes no mention of representation at all.

But I think it is fair comment to point out that in the UK ‘representation’ is normally assumed to being open to the views and comments of those who elect the representative. He did write that

I would do everything in my power to protect the BFI from outside interference and from the erosion of its education and commissioning budgets

Unfortunately he does not seem to have had much success in this. He also wrote re the Regional representative post

As a confirmed non-South-East of England resident, I’m putting myself forward for election as a governor in that category. [i.e. Regional Representative].

I have to say I was surprised to find that him state in an interview that he lives in Wiltshire: not the inference I drew from his statement. Taken together with the listing of other Board members it appears that there is no representation from north of Watford – which includes the Midlands, the North of England, Scotland and Wales!

Unfortunately there seems to be little pressure either on the Board or on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to rectify this situation. Readers might give this some thought.

And note that Peter Kominsky also wrote in his statement that he regularly attends screenings at the National Film Theatre/Southbank. If someone sees him there perhaps they could ask him to tell them about his three years service on the Board: and whether he intends to give the electorate the opportunity to decide if they wish him to represent them for a further year.

PS Mark Newell advised me that there is now a notice regarding the extension of the Regional representatives term in the BFI newsletter and on the Website – presumably someone read this posting!

And there are some news sets of minutes up as well.

 

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.