Memorandum by the British Film Institute
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
recognition of the real value and proven
public demand for content in national archives. Sustaining the
critical investment needed to continue the Screen Heritage
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/rightsencouraging
long-term growth of and access to the national collections through
extending acceptance-in-lieu scheme for living arts donors
Rightsthe 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
Educationthe 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
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 phenomenoneveryone 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 driverBritain
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 Screenonlinethe 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
also this year, 1.3 million people
will watch a film from the BFIto 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 Archiveone of Britain's greatest
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
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 programmestaken from regional as
well as national collectionsthat 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 differentand
far more immediateexperience 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
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.
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
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
collectionsome 675,000 programmesis 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
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 Festivala 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 here70% 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 Solacemany going on to win multiple film awardsthe
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 consumersthey can influence what we deliver
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 Centrea
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
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
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 societyaround
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
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
Film in lifelong learning
Education permeates throughout the BFI, encompassing
all we dofrom 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
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 landwe 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 creativelywhether 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 examplesshowing 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 televisionan 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
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
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
4. Demonstrating Educational Value: Identifying,
developing and evaluating effective use of screen heritage material
within learning environments.
1 See Appendix. Back
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