Category: Film industry

BFI Member Governors R.I.P.

Too many crooks

It would seem that we should mourn our representation on the BFI Board of Governors: the Members’ Representative is no more. The minutes of a series of meetings by the Board in 2015 have just been placed on the BFI Webpages. {My thanks to Mark Newell who bought this to my attention and provided other information]. This is the only notice that the Board has deemed to make. There is no notice as of yet on the BFI Webpages: and there are no Press Releases or Photo-ops as when a celebrity joins the Board. In fact I sent at least five emails to the Board office after no notice appeared in January [as promised] informing members about the status of a representative, but received no response.

Member Governor Election 2015

3.3 The results of the recent Member Governor election were outlined and discussed by the Board. The Board was informed that Peter Kosminsky had topped the poll, but a disappointing 5.1% of the electorate had participated. In accordance with the rules governing the Election (that require 10% of the electorate to participate) the election was therefore null and void, and as the turnout was so low, the Board regrettably determined that they should not again exercise their right to appoint the winning candidate regardless. It was acknowledged that Peter’s contribution to the Board over the last four years had been extremely significant and the Chair expressed his gratitude for Peter’s considerable efforts during his term.

3.4 Three elections had taken place since 2012 and on each occasion the turnout had been well below the 10% figure required for the election to be valid. It was noted that the cost of running an election was significant. In light of these two factors, the board questioned whether elections for a Member Governor should still take place. The Board acknowledged the value of reserving a Board place for a BFI member. As an alternative to an election, it was proposed that as the Member Governor position becomes vacant, members should be invited to nominate candidates who might meet specified skills requirements. A short list would then be drawn up and candidates interviewed by the Nominations and Appointments Committee. The Committee would then make a recommendation to the Board. The Board considered that this would allow for the reinvigoration of the valuable Member Governor position and resolved to approve the process going forward. As the position was now vacant the new process would be implemented as soon as possible.

There are quite a few problems with this record and proposal. The 10% rule, which was only introduced by the Board in recent years, is an anachronism. The only other organisations in British Society which have a percentage requirements imposed on their membership are the Trade Unions: this speaks volumes about the existing Board interests and values. None of the Board Members have been elected, even by one vote. In fact, only one member of the Board appears to have been involved in elections at all: and that member lost on both occasions. It would seem that the Board intend to lay down specified skills in the future for nominees. The only relevant requirements at the moment would seem to be representation of ordinary workers and representation of the regions. Judging by the profiles all of the Board members are involved in management or direction, work in London, and, as far as I can tell, not one of them lives north of the Watford Gap. And this applied to the last regional representative on the Board as well. As for the Board vetting such nominations according to their own criteria, which presumably will not be available to members, what is the point of an election in this manner. Its actual purpose is much more likely to be vet possible candidates so that no-one is elected who might rock the cosy and secretive clique.

I used secretive advisedly, because if you check the minutes available on the BFI Webpages you can see that there are an increasing numbers of items that are marked ‘Part of this minute has been removed due to reasons of confidentiality’. So it is difficult to even check what the Board is doing in certain areas.

The election of members representatives goes back to the 1972 and was introduced because of the vocal criticism of the Board and the BFI management at the time. At that time the line was that ‘a hundred member’ would be considered sufficient to justify a candidate’s election. Clearly, an active representative is a thorn in the side of the Board and the management. My personal view is that the covert purpose all along has been to neuter elected representation. First we lost one of the two representatives, now both are gone. That does, of course, parallel similar movements across British society, especially in the public sector. Presumably the Board would wish to be like the wholly unelected and unaccountable Trustees at the Science Museum Group. The result of that sort of control is exemplified in the expropriation of the Royal Society Photographic collection from The Bradford National Media Museum to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. As has been pointed out, Londoners could go to an Exhibition or a Museum every day of the year and not visit all that is on offer in the metropolis. The Science Museum management used similar tactic to the BFI Board to achieve this. In their case reducing access to the collection and then claiming not enough people visited the collection!

Our Yankee cousins still treasure the founding cry of their great revolution, ‘no taxation without representation!’ The situation at the BFI is less dramatic, but the like is applicable. The people who pay for the organisation should have some control on how it spends their money.

Nigerian film or ‘Nollywood’

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Want to learn more about the second largest film industry in terms of output, then tune in to Al Jazeera (133 on UK terrestrial). In their series Al Jazeera World they are broadcasting a film by Abba Makama, The Secret of Nollywood. And Al Jazeera Stream later in the coming week will focus on the industry and films as well. Makama’s 50 minute film looks at the history of the industry, includes interviews with participants and clips of numerous productions, and has comments on the style of the films and the manner in which the industry operates. The film is a conventional array of talking heads and film clips, and I thought it rather lacked detail. For example, not every clip is dated, we get no actual figures for annual output and the specific operations, like distribution, are rather vague. At the same time it does give an impression of this relatively new phenomenon, which is now available in the UK.

The film goes into the early years of film in Nigeria after the end of formal colonialism: there was a pioneer operation on 35mm which used both touring exhibitions and exports to festivals and other African markets. This died away in the 1980s and then in the 1990s a new industry emerged using VHS format and distribution. This has developed into the use of DVD and now Online download technology. In addition Nigeria has acquired a small number of multiplexes and there are cinema screenings in Nigeria, in other African markets, and (as Roy has noted) a few in the UK.

This seems to be a little known section of World Cinema. But its rapid development suggests that it will grow in importance in the future. And these days screenings of African films are extremely sparse.

Screening Sunday 1300; Monday 0200; Tuesday 0700, and more. – GMT.

Visit Al Jazeera WebPages: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/south2north/2013/05/201352933595432.html

Credit where credit is due!

Roger-Waters-The-Wall-Live

We have had quite a number of postings on this Blog that take the multiplex sector to task. So it seems only fair to give any company credit for positive innovation. Recently the Vue chain has added an additional page of information on its websites:

Here are your 4K films and times.

It is reached by a link on the right hand side of the ‘What’s on’ page, under ‘narrow your search’ and ‘sony 4K’. This is good news because  it struck me  a long time ago that it was rather frustrating to read adverts about 4K projection when there was no equivalent information about the DCPs which were source.

However, this addition also points up the really stingy approach of the distribution and exhibitions sectors – the next 4K DCP is, apparently, the film advertised at the top and only due on September 29th 2015 and for a single screening.

The most that can be hoped for, I suppose, is that some other exhibitors might follow Vue’s example. Then at least we will know about the few higher standard screenings available.

Friday’s Trailer

long-good-friday-poster

In a recent screening at Picturehouse at the National Media Museum I enjoyed a trailer for a re-issue of the UK classic The Long Good Friday (1980). This re-issue is to mark the 35th anniversary of the film’s release. I thought the trailer was pretty well done. If you have seen the film before then the clips reminded one of some of the great action and dramatic sequences in the film. However if you have not seen this film before then I thought that the film did not pre-empt viewings in the unfortunate way that so many contemporary trailers do.

But the final onscreen title in the trailer spoilt my pleasure

‘exclusive 2K restoration’.

We have an increasing number of venues in the UK that advertise 4K projection, though they are not always as informative about whether films come in a 4K DCP. And we have enjoyed an increasing number of classic films restored using 4K technology [or even higher]. 4K cameras are becoming increasingly common in film production – I was fortunate have a cinematographer show me such a camera during a filming out our own Hyde Park Picture House.

Despite all of this the cheapskates in the UK distribution sector persists in using 2K technology. I would be interested to hear from film buffs in other countries as to what the standards are there. Certainly whilst there are still quite few cinemas in the UK which only have 2K projection the technology allows them to source from 4K DCPs.

I remember in the early days of digital projection frequently hearing exhibitors and distributors claiming that digital

 ‘looked better than film’.

Given that the vast majority of film then originated on 35mm this was an oxymoron – there is a contradiction between the use of ‘better’ and different formats that are incommensurable. One image is composed of silver halide grain the other of pixels. I am always annoyed by reviews that claim that a film is ‘better’ than the original literary work. The critic may find the film more enjoyable, and some viewers may prefer the characteristics of digital; that is not the same thing.

The more recent items of rhetoric from exhibitors and distributors are

          ‘the screen is not large enough for 4K or the viewing angles in the auditorium are insufficient for 4K’.

digital-cinema-projector

I have yet to hear an convincing explanation for these claims. Certainly Torkell Saetervadet, in the FIAF Digital Projection Guide, takes this and a several accompanying arguments to task,.

           ‘The numbers [set out in a diagram] indicate, though, that the 4K format is much closer to the ideal cinema than 2K ..’

Another claim is that audiences ‘don’t notice’. There may be some truth in this but the claim is difficult to determine. For a start mainstream film nearly always privileges action and character over technique: the invisible style. And prior to the arrival of video the comparisons were between different celluloid formats or between nitrate and safety film stock. Now the comparisons may be between analogue video, DVD, Blu-Ray, other formats  and DCPs. Of course, the DCP technology is a form of video itself. But the standards are higher than other forms, and the effectiveness of the format is constantly developing. indeed one of the developments is from 2K to 4K to 6K, and soon 7 or 8K.

Further there is a larger problem with Digital standards. I have noticed recently that there frequently appears to be variation in aspect ratios, even when they are supposed to be in New Academy. And this does not seem to be just a projection problem. It is worth noting that the Arriflex Alexa has a range of settings for aspects ratios, but that the standard one seems to be 16:9, not even a cinematic ratio.

There also seem to be problems with digital sound, an area where the technology has bought undoubted improvement. But I find that modern soundtracks often lacks balance: the prime example would be Interstellar (2014), where the director publically defended its disparities.

Clearly it is not feasible to press for a return to uniform celluloid projection. However, the distributors could be more effective in making 35mm available, at least to a degree. But there need to be higher standards in the digital sphere. The standards were initially set down by the Hollywood Academy. The failings of the original standardisation are apparent from the question of frame rates – initially including 24fps, 25 fps, and 48 fps. The extension of these frame rates mean that now 2K has a wider variation available than 4K. So the standards included the facility of video playback but not proper digital playback of early film. FIAF has now addressed this point with specifications for rates from 16 to 24 fps. But hardly anywhere in the UK can one find digital versions played at the frame rate of the original early film. This despite a projectionist explaining to me that the conversions were relatively simple.

Finally there is the question of archiving. There is no convincing evidence about the life span for digital: and changing formats are also increasingly a problem. Yet it seems that some distributors and stores are only retaining digital copies even when the original was celluloid. The prospects for future generations appear problematic. Archivists reckon that only a third of early film, shot on nitrate, survives. The explanation was the absence of an archival process in those years. We may well arrive at a situation where the same is true of sound nitrate and safety stock films.