The British Film and Television Industries - Communications Committee Contents

Memorandum by the British Film Institute (BFI)


  I welcome the opportunity to submit evidence on behalf of the BFI to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications in its inquiry into the British film and television industries. This is a timely intervention as these industries are widely acknowledged as world class.

  However, we believe far more emphasis could be beneficially placed on the vital role that cultural cinema plays in fuelling this world-class status.

  The BFI itself is at a pivotal moment; at a point in history when the culture of film has never been so important or more all pervasive across society as a whole. The BFI is the UK's cultural agency for film, in the same way the National Gallery is for paintings or the British Library for print.

  The BFI was founded in 1933 and granted a Royal Charter 50 years later. It has five objectives:

    — to encourage the development of the arts of film, television and the moving image throughout the UK;

    — to promote their use as a record of contemporary life and manners;

    — to promote education about film, television and the moving image generally, and their impact on society;

    — to promote access to and appreciation of the widest possible range of British and world cinema; and

    — to establish, care for and develop collections reflecting the moving image history and heritage of the UK.

  We are grant-in-aid funded by DCMS through the UK Film Council, with an additional £1 million levy coming from commercial terrestrial broadcasters to fund the television element of the BFI National Archive. A further 55% of our total funding is self-generated income.

  Our mission is to ensure that everyone has access to the broadest choice of film culture, no matter where they live or how they want to access it. We show and distribute the sort of film that simply wouldn't be available without the BFI's intervention. It is this broadest spectrum of world cinema presented by the BFI that acts as a catalyst to spark, inspire and influence continued development across the whole of the creative industries.

  The BFI is the guardian of the national film collections and our fundamental aims are to generate new knowledge through an exciting, innovative and accessible cultural programme and to reach new audiences by inspiring and motivating people to seek out film culture.

  The BFI's evidence to this inquiry is given within the context of our mission and aims. There are a number of specific issues the BFI urge the Select Committee to consider in its inquiry:

    — The value of supporting the broadest film culture across society

    — A successful film industry would not exist without a vibrant, healthy film culture

    — The BFI National Archive and regional archives

    — recognition of the real value and proven public demand for content in national archives. Sustaining the critical investment needed to continue the Screen Heritage UK Strategy[1] to unlock this further

    — addressing the future of Britain's television heritage in the BFI National Archive after analogue switch off

    — Tax Breaks for donations/rights—encouraging long-term growth of and access to the national collections through extending acceptance-in-lieu scheme for living arts donors

    Rights—the urgent introduction of a simpler system which balances the need for easy public access with compensation for rights owners. This was the basis of our recommendations to the Gowers Review that were broadly accepted by Government but which have yet to be implemented

    Education—the adoption of film both as a teaching tool and as a compelling educational resource across the curriculum, and the teaching of film "grammar" as an entitlement for every school child

    Digital infrastructure—as proposed in the recent Digital Britain interim report, we call for a national broadband infrastructure as it would allow the BFI to leverage much greater public value from activities which are already invested in by the public purse. However, it also carries with it the imperative that to unlock this additional value, core revenue investment must be maintained.


1. How do the UK film and television industries contribute to the UK economy and British culture? In what ways might this contribution be enhanced?

    "Something as powerful as film should be celebrated and understood."—Anthony Minghella.

  The BFI is the nation's agency for film culture.

  Film culture has never been so important. Most of the information we need to navigate modern life comes through the moving image. To be literate in today's society means to understand the language of film and television, to be able to "read" and "write" in a medium other than print.

  Film is a social phenomenon—everyone is uploading or downloading; we live in a YouTube society; it is the medium of choice today. Film is probably the most powerful tool we have to engage with the young, a common currency or language; it is the most powerful vehicle for the promotion of social cohesion.

  Film is also a huge economic driver—Britain is arguably the third most important centre in the world for film and the BFI's role in supporting, inspiring and championing creativity through providing access to the broadest diversity of cinema from across the world is increasingly vital. We are helping stimulate a Creative Britain, ensuring a vibrant cultural framework and encouraging new talent.

  But it is not just about the high budget, heavily marketed "tentpole" films. The vitality of film in today's society can be seen in the growing demand that the BFI is experiencing for a wider, more diverse spectrum of world and heritage cinema. We see it every day:

    — Some 12,000 prints a year are loaned out by the BFI National Archive to support the programmes of 800 venues across the UK and overseas;

    — tens of millions of people have over the past five years enjoyed hours of material from the Archive through co-productions with TV broadcasters;

    — BFI Screenonline—the story of British film and television shown as through hundreds of hours of archive footage is free in every school, university and public library

    — through its free education and teaching packages enabling film to be taught in the classroom the BFI has reached 5,000 schools and two million children;

    — 1,000 hours of material has been digitised for free public access in BFI Mediatheques on the South Bank, in the BFI Library and at the mixed arts centre Quad in Derby, with five more venues to follow across the UK;

    — Two million people a year enjoy archive films for free on the BFI's YouTube channel;

    — every year 300,000 DVDs of BFI films are sold;

    — also this year, 1.3 million people will watch a film from the BFI—to see a choice of over 3,000 different films from across the world and from every era since the earliest days of cinema

    — in 2008 there were over 122,000 admissions to the London Film Festival to see 300 films from 43 different countries; more than 27,000 tickets were sold for the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

BFI National Archive—one of Britain's greatest cultural treasures

  The BFI National Archive holds the world's most significant collection of film and television material and information, with around 60,000 fiction titles, 120,000 non-fiction titles and over 675,000 television programmes. Additionally this national collection contains the recorded proceedings of both Houses of Parliament, 45,000 books on film and television related topics, 25,000 scripts, four million stills, 15,000 posters, thousands of press books, set designs and extensive collections of the personal papers of filmmakers.

  In 2003 the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee report recognised the importance of the UK's film and television archives and recommended that "the BFI should take the lead within the UK film and TV archive community and champion the whole sector…an over-arching national strategy promoting both good curatorship and increasing accessibility should be vigorously pursued."

  Following the last Comprehensive Spending Review, £25 million in funding was awarded for the project to begin and the BFI has now established a Programme Office to deliver the Screen Heritage UK project, on behalf of the UK Film Council. The aim of the project is to begin to realise the huge potential of both the BFI's own and the numerous other regional collections, so that a rich and diverse source of public service content can be made available to UK citizens.

  Through the Screen Heritage UK project, The BFI is leading on the strands that will provide fit-for-purpose storage for the national collection to ensure its ongoing preservation, and to provide digital access to them. But access is just part of the equation and it is the application of knowledge and contextualisation by the BFI that makes curated access so much more valuable to the public.

  For example, as a key output from the Screen Heritage UK project, the BFI will be presenting A Portrait of Britain. Building on a very successful programme that ran in Liverpool as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations, this latest innovative online resource will give everyone in Britain a unique insight into their social, cultural and political heritage as seen on film and television. It brings together a curated collection of films and television programmes—taken from regional as well as national collections—that best explore the people and places of the UK and which provide a vivid picture of life in our nations and regions from 1895 to today.

  Our moving image heritage has the potential to speak to and excite all tastes and interests. Everyone watches film and television, yet few people have access to archive films about the places where they live, how their grandparents' generation survived life on the Home Front, or about the jobs their great-great grandparents did. Watching a film is an entirely different—and far more immediate—experience than looking at a photograph or reading a book.

  Providing digital access to this heritage is a core priority for the BFI and we welcome the call for investment in digital infrastructure as laid out in the Digital Britain interim report. That investment is critical because it has the power to add public value to existing activities and to unlock value in new areas. Without it, that public value is lost. Indeed without it, the BFI will not be able to deliver its remit in the long term.

  It is also in this context that we would argue for continued investment in the Screen Heritage UK strategy after the next Comprehensive Spending Review. We believe that it has the real (as yet untested) potential in the longer term to unlock commercial revenue streams that can be reinvested back into the UK's cultural heritage.


  The BFI is frequently asked why it does not just digitise everything in the archive and put it online. Aside from the obvious reason of cost and sheer volume, there is an underlying rights issue that curtails this notion and it remains a critical aspect of our work at the BFI.

  We recommended to the Gowers Review in 2007, and more recently reiterated to David Lammy in his review of copyright (Developing a Copyright Agenda for the 21st Century), that there is urgent need for extensions to the rights exceptions for archives and education in order to facilitate our work in preservation, access and providing educational services.[2]

  We fully support the need for a balance between compensating creative workers and investors for use of their work and the needs of the citizens and society to be able to access this material in the furtherance of knowledge generation. We were also particularly keen to see the issue of orphan works addressed urgently. Frustratingly as yet, the Government has not implemented the Gowers recommendations.

A new generation of philanthropy?

  The BFI National Archive is a living, breathing entity with collections that are being added to every day. Clearly decisions have to be made all the time on what is taken into the collections and indeed what material the BFI should actively bid for when they become available. But we also want to see the creation of a financial environment conducive to individuals or their estates once they are deceased in donating personal collections to the nation.

  Despite the welcome investment in the Archive in the last Comprehensive Spending Review, the financing of the BFI National Archive will require significant additional funding in the years to come to cope with the expected increase in demand. In an era of constrained public finances, so that we can attract a greater number and more complete collections to the BFI National Archive that have the power to generate public value, we believe an incentive would be to see the acceptance-in-lieu scheme extended to living donors, not restricted to just the deceased's estate. In other areas of the cultural sector, acceptance-in-lieu has brought over £250 million-worth of works into the public domain over the past 10 years and we need to ensure that film collections are kept intact and can be saved for future generations.

  Currently, many seminal or classic British film collections are owned by overseas organisations. We should value saving the right for British people to see British films.

Preserving Britain's TV heritage

  The BFI National Archive holds by far the largest accessible archive of British television programmes. The television collection—some 675,000 programmes—is not just an archive; it is a snapshot of life in Britain seen through the eyes of others over the past 60 years or more. It tells a mass of stories about our social, political and economic history and reveals how we have changed in Britain to become a more multicultural society. It is preserved so that future generations can look back and understand why we are the way we are in Britain.

  Most of the material has been acquired for permanent preservation through off-air recording of the independent terrestrial channels, ie ITV, Channel 4 and Five, and this is funded by statutory provision under the terms of the 1990 Broadcasting Act and 2003 Communications Act. We have also acquired donations of television material on various formats since the late 1950s. Additionally, we select examples of regional programmes from independent television and we are the official archive of the Parliamentary Recording Unit.

  Currently the BFI's national television archive is funded by a levy on ITV, Channel 4 and Five as part of their public broadcasting commitment. But it is unclear what will happen after digital switch-over and there is a real risk that without this funding, the nation's ongoing, not just legacy, television heritage will be lost for future generations. We would ask, therefore, that consideration be given to how television heritage will be funded post digital switchover.

London Film Festival—a critical platform for film in Britain

The London Film Festival is one of the world's pre-eminent film festivals and very much part of the fabric of Britain's cultural life. The Festival is renowned for its quality of programming and for the experience it offers, not just to filmmakers and film industry professionals, but also to the public.

  Now in its 53rd year the London Film Festival provides a platform for filmmakers and film companies to present their new releases, as well as to network and attend special events, masterclasses and training sessions. For the public, the two-week Festival is an opportunity to see the very best in contemporary cinema from around the world. This ranges from World and European advance premieres of high profile titles, to work which they would otherwise be unable to see here—70% of the films screened do not receive theatrical distribution in the UK. Nowhere else in Britain can the public experience such a broad and diverse mix of contemporary world cinema.

  The Festival has made its home in London, one of the great global centres for the film and creative industries, and it contributes significantly to the capital's profile as a leading world tourist destination. Increasingly, the film industry is seeing the London Film Festival as a pre-awards platform and this is having a positive effect on the number of world and European premieres. Last year the Festival opened with the world premiere of Frost/Nixon and closed with the European premiere of Slumdog Millionnaire. Additionally, with an exciting Gala programme last year including such releases as W., Hunger, Waltz with Bashir and the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace—many going on to win multiple film awards—the Festival's profile and reputation continues to grow and so the public value increases.

  We believe the Festival can become of even greater value to the industry and more exciting for the public, but it is in danger of becoming eclipsed by other international festivals with larger budgets. The more impact we can create for the London Film Festival, the more likely the industry is to support it and continue making it grow. We have developed a plan to capitalise on the growing status of the London Film Festival and have sought investment through the UK Film Council's Festivals Fund.

  However, we need to be cogniscent that whilst the London Film Festival punches well above its weight, its nearest rivals on the international stage have budgets far in excess of its own, typically two to three times as much.

2.  How do the current UK arrangements for distribution and exhibition of films affect the commercial success of the film industry?

The BFI as a digital hub

  The onset of digital has completely revolutionised the way in which the BFI can pursue its aims. Our strategy, as presented to Government, positions the BFI as a digital hub within a wider network of sectoral cultural partnership for the distribution and exchange of knowledge, learning and cultural programmes.

  A diversity of film is no longer just about a few film fanatics watching classic subtitled films. Instead it means that everyone can engage in ways simply unimaginable before. It means we can respond by delivering the broadest spectrum of film to the many. In fact audiences expect us to provide intelligent access to their film heritage and we can tailor content for the individual or for the larger audience. Challenging and exciting in equal measures is the fact that audiences are no longer restricted to being passive consumers—they can influence what we deliver for them.

  The BFI is totally committed to further exploring the ever-greater impact of digital technology in the work, enjoyment and lives of people across Britain.

  This envisages a National Film Centre—a modern fit-for-purpose hub which values the virtual visitor as much as the actual visitor coming through the door. Diverse audiences from filmmakers to educators, families and students will be able to meet together in situ and online to share great programmes of film culture, knowledge and inspiration, while newly generated content will in turn be shared digitally with audiences across the UK.

  Although physically situated in London, the BFI National Film Centre will most emphatically be national in terms of its reach as it exchanges digitally programmes of content and knowledge with a broad variety of communities, partners and constituents up and down the UK. It will draw on the richness of the BFI National Archive, updating it with new content and linking to the regional archives and the BFI's expanding Mediatheque network.

Digital distribution

  The BFI is both a distributor and exhibitor of film. Each year over 600,000 people watch a film from the BFI in a cinema, village hall, arts centre or film society—around 600 venues across the UK every year. This level of access and audience is just one of many indicators we have of the extent of public demand for a diversity of films beyond those distributed by the American majors in Hollywood.

  Films from the BFI National Archive or from the BFI Distribution collection are mostly distributed as 35mm prints, or in very rare instances as 16mm prints. Increasingly, new releases are also on digital formats such as digibeta, or distributed via the Digital Screen Network (DSN) which was established and is supported by the UK Film Council. The BFI has benefited from the support of the UK Film Council's Prints and Advertising (P&A) Fund, primarily for new theatrical releases where we make both a 35mm print and a digital print.

  Around 75% of cinema screens in Britain are housed within multiplexes which come under the control of a diminishing number of exhibitors. The programming of art-house cinemas is also consolidating as many regional exhibitors are reducing their programming expertise and relying on centralised programming, because funding into the sector is shrinking. This will lead to less diversity of film culture available, something we are monitoring carefully.

  What we are increasingly seeing is more and more specialist cinemas faced with the situation where they cannot afford to upgrade to digital projection to show new film releases that are on digital format. Yet, if they remain with 35mm projection, eventually the number of new releases that they can show will fall away and they will become commercially unviable. Many exhibitors will therefore disappear and this puts at risk the BFI's ability to ensure the public has a full choice and diversity in film.

  We recognise that in the long term digital distribution and exhibition will be predominant and this calls for massive investment in digitisation of the key elements of the BFI back-catalogue. The question is how much will digitisation cost and who will pay for it? And in most instances, before the material can be digitised, rights clearance will need to be renegotiated.

  The BFI is sustaining its position to continue distributing film on 35mm, whilst also managing the start of the transition to digital. So all new releases/re-releases from the BFI now are dual format. However, in the medium term we would like to see intervention to help the smaller independent cinemas retain 35mm whilst also migrating to digital and consideration given to digitising the Archive distribution prints.

4.  Could the UK Film Council do more to assist the UK film industry's contribution to the UK economy?

  The UK Film Council must be supported to ensure that funds for film culture at the grass roots are valued as much as interventions to support the industry itself. Where that film culture drives a vibrancy and creativity in the industry it does not happen by accident, it comes about by investment in education and plurality of film programmes and resources.

5.  Is the current business infrastructure in the UK conducive to the acquisition of the managerial and technical skills required by the film and television industries? Is the business environment conducive to the emergence of entrepreneurial talent, which can take advantage of opportunities in the creative industries?

Film in lifelong learning

  Education permeates throughout the BFI, encompassing all we do—from our Library to our digital offer across Screenonline and Mediatheques, from the programme notes we produce to contextualise screenings to the booklets, commentaries and documentaries we release with our DVDs, and taking in research and scholarship with higher education partners.

  But the BFI also works in formal education settings. We have been a world-leading pioneer in developing media literacy and media education programmes for more than 40 years. We strongly believe that in 21st century society, learning how to read the film "sentence" is, we believe, a fundamental right and just as important as learning to read and write. Literacy in schools must move beyond just the written word and embrace the critical, cultural and creative understanding of film and television, alongside reading and writing. This would include providing rights-cleared material for students to download and creatively repurpose.

  Our experiences and anecdotal evidence suggest that to embed the moving image at the heart of Education would be welcomed by every child in the land—we would be speaking to them in a language they already understand. Likewise we would advocate for film to be used by teachers as a resource and tool in their classroom.

  With our partners in the Film Education Strategy the BFI's vision for film education is to create a "cineliterate" population in the UK. Under the Charter for Media Literacy, being cineliterate means being able to choose and access, understand, create, and express oneself in moving image media. In this context the BFI provides access to the best in world and UK film culture from past and present, it offers choices and opportunities for people to extend their understanding of film in all its forms so that they can be part of the debate about it, and it helps people develop creatively—whether it be as filmmakers or as "consumers" of film.

Investment in skills

  The BFI National Archive is recognised worldwide for its skills in the preservation and curation of film and television. Skills and equipment have changed significantly over the years, more so perhaps in television where there has been a succession of different formats introduced for filming and for broadcast recording. In many instances these formats have become obsolete but it remains incumbent on the BFI National Archive to keep Britain's archive of television intact and accessible, so re-skilling and sharing of knowledge is important, as is the retention and maintenance of old equipment to play these obsolete formats.

  In film, with the increasing transition to digital, there is an urgent need to introduce re-skilling for preservation and conservation purposes, whilst at the same time keeping existing skills for the legacy archive material on film.

  To this end, the BFI has been working with Skillset, and with support from the UK Film Council, on a digital skills training initiative particularly geared towards developing skills in the film and television archive sector. Two initiatives have been designed, one for new entrants to the industry at the start of their careers and the other for skills development among more established professionals. Both initiatives tackle the transition to digital as specific strands on the courses, but they also acknowledge that film as a format is not going away. The BFI and Skillset aim to have courses up and running during 2009.

  Investment in film culture is the oxygen which helps grow skills and knowledge. The BFI has an incubator effect that stimulates creativity and talent. At BFI Southbank the Future Film Institute is a group of young people who programme the sort of films that speak to them and their generation; the National Film and Television School regularly platforms its work there; many staff at the venue are resting actors or filmmakers between films; every day there are events where emerging filmmakers, writers, actors, cameramen, producers can meet established industry professionals.

  The programme at the BFI is about taking risks, showing work which wouldn't find screen space elsewhere. The BFI Festivals are prime examples—showing hundreds of films from across the world, 70% of which never receive theatrical distribution in the UK. And our emerging digital strategy is allowing everyone around the country to join in.

6.  How successful has the regulatory system been in supporting UK content in television? Are there particular types of programming, such as drama, children's or factual programming, for which more support is needed? Could more be done through regulation or incentives, for example, to encourage non-public service broadcasters to commission original UK content? Might financial measures, such as industry levies, be feasible and effective?

  The BFI National Archive looks after the world's most significant collection of film and television—an immense, rich source of public service content. We know there is ever growing demand and to grow engagement we believe consideration should be given to how increased access can be made to this material, which is owned by the public, in the same context as traditional content generated for broadcast.

7.  How will the structural changes facing the UK television industry, and particularly the public service broadcasting component, affect UK originated television content? To what extent are these effects irreversible? To what extent are they being offset by changes elsewhere in the creative industries sector? What are the implications for television content creation of digital switchover and widespread broadband availability?

  Currently the BFI's national television archive is funded by a levy on ITV, Channel 4 and Five as part of their public broadcasting commitment. It is not clear in the current climate what will happen after digital switch-over, the risk being that without continued investment in collecting, the nation's ongoing television heritage will be lost for future generations.

  We are in discussion with Ofcom in context with its own review of Public Service Broadcasting. Additionally, in our response to the Digital Britain interim report we asked that the BFI is included in discussions from the earliest stages to ensure that provisions are made for archiving Britain's TV heritage in a post-analogue world.


  In October 2007 the DCMS announced a £25 million investment in support of a Strategy for UK Screen Heritage. The Strategy was drawn up by the UK Film Heritage Group in consultation with a wide group of stakeholders including the BBC and the regional film archives around the UK. It is now being taken forward as a programme of projects under the title "Screen Heritage UK".

  The BFI has established a Programme Office to deliver Screen Heritage UK on behalf of the UK Film Council. The vision of this £25 million initiative is that: "The public are entitled to access, learn about and enjoy their rich screen heritage wherever they live and wherever the materials are held."

  The business case for this strategy identifies a preferred way forward for the programme constituting investment in the following four strands:

    1. Securing the National Collection: Capital works to extend and improve BFI storage facilities with appropriate conditions to safeguard the collection.

    2. Revitalising the Regions: Nomination of key collections in the English Regions, leading to improved plans for their preservation and access.

    3. Delivering Digital Access: Extending online access to the Nation's screen heritage, through collection cross-searching and digitisation.

    4. Demonstrating Educational Value: Identifying, developing and evaluating effective use of screen heritage material within learning environments.

March 2009

1   See Appendix. Back

2   It is worth noting that whilst digitisation is an excellent solution for access, it should not be seen as a long term solution for film archive preservation or to replace existing masters and film formats. There are currently no world-standards agreed for digital archiving of film, file formats are frequently changing and master film is still of a much higher quality when projected then digital. Back

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