Distinguished British academic and producer Colin MacCabe has today (Monday) publicly announced his candidature for the post of Chair of the British Film Institute (BFI).

The current chairman Anthony Minghella is due to step down at the end of the year. Whether or not MacCabe’s application is successful, it is bound to provoke debate about the future direction of the BFI.

In a strongly-worded letter to James Purnell, Secretary of State Department of Culture, Media and Sport, MacCabe criticised the decision taken when the UK Film Council (UKFC) was set up in 2000 to ‘subordinate’ the BFI to the Film Council.

This decision, he suggested,’inaugurated a tragic decade in the BFI’s history, when it lost its international reputation as a centre of excellence, but also meant that the Film Council was set up without the necessary expertise in film history to function effectively.’

MacCabe has called for a ‘recalibration’ of the relationship between UKFC and the BFI.

‘This recalibration would need to include a re-assessment of the UKFC’s
current business model for film funding,’ MacCabe wrote in his letter to Purnell.

‘In particular it should be an urgent question as to whether a policy which does not include a criteria for additionality is the most productive or appropriate use of Lottery funding.

As important is the necessity for an audit of the training and regional
policies which have as their aim the production of the next generation
of British film-makers.’

MacCabe went on to lament ‘the calamitous state of the BFI as an
authoritative centre of knowledge and expertise.’

When he joined the BFI as Head of Production in 1985, MacCabe stated, ‘there were over 20 globally recognised experts working at various levels of the BFI. Now there areone ortwo at most.’

The BFI received a major boost earlier this autumn when Purnell
announced that the UK Film Council (UKFC) has been awarded £25m to safeguard the future of the UK’s national and regional film archives.

Using these funds, UKFC is aiming to preserve and restore the BFI’s national and regional collections.

Asked about the current relationship between the BFI and UKFC, a BFI
spokesperson commented: ‘we work extremely closely with the UK Film
Council. We are absolutely shoulder to shoulder. They fully understand
our needs. We are very much part of their ongoing strategy.’

Previous chairmen of the BFI have included such eminent figures as Lord Attenborough and Jeremy Thomas.

A new Chair is likely to be appointed by DCMS/UK Film Council early next year.

A UKFC spokesperson said that there was ‘a strong field of candidates’ who will be interviewed by a panel consisting of the the Chair and Deputy-Chair of the UK Film Council (Stewart Till and Andrew Eaton), BFIi Governor Roger Laughton and Brian Leonard of the DCMS. The interviews will take place in January.

MacCabe’s latest film as a producer, Isaac Julien’s Derek Jarman, will
premiere in Sundance early next year.

Join the debate. Emailmichael.gubbins@emap.com. A selection of views will be carried on Screendaily this week.