BFI director Nevill outlines new plans, including addition of a deputy chief executive; 38 UKFC staff who move to BFI stay at same salary level.

The British Film Institute (BFI) officially takes on the mantle of lead film body in the UK today, absorbing various functions of the UK Film Council (UKFC) including the Film Fund for development and production, the P&A Fund and administration of other Lottery and grant-in-aid funding responsibilities to the certification unit, regional screen agencies, office of the British Film Commissioner, The Media Desk, Skillset and First Light.
The BFI had itself already taken a 20% cut in its own grant-in-aid funding before it was mandated to take on the UKFC, and has used both its own cuts and the new functions to revamp its infrastructure.
Chairman Greg Dyke and director Amanda Nevill last night announced the appointment of five new governors to its board reflecting the BFI’s expanded industrial agenda, three of which are industry heavyhitters – Lisbeth Savill who is the head of the film and TV practice at Olswang, Josh Berger who is president and managing director of Warner Bros Entertainment UK, Ireland and Spain, and producer Matthew Justice who is managing director of Big Talk. They join Film4 controller Tessa Ross on a refreshed board which will be shaping the future strategy of the new BFI.
“Both the BFI and the UK Film Council have been through huge turmoil over the last 18 months so we have been focused on creating a new organisation,” said Nevill this week, “and welcoming new colleagues who don’t feel like they are coming to an old organisation but helping to create a new one.”
“It is important that the transition is going to look utterly seamless and invisible to the outside world,” she continued, “so the film funds are still there, the funds for next year are going up, and we have ensured that the regional screen agencies are getting their money for the next six months as they transition into Creative England.”

She stresses that the rationale behind bringing the two organisations together is to reduce overhead so that more money can go to front line funding and indeed the Film Fund increases next year from £15m to £18m.
She points to areas which the new board will focus on as an immediate priority:

  • The Film Fund; revisiting the way in which funds are made available to film-makers and ensuring clarity in the criteria for access. “I thought the last review the UKFC did on this was spot on, but this is an opportunity to revisit that,” said Nevill. “I don’t envisage that altering much.”
  • Film outside London: the BFI will focus on expanding audience for UK and independent film in the regions as well as inspiring new film-makers. “What we can do is support what has been started by the RSAs and look at what are the big interventions we can make in a sustained way over the next two to three years which can re-energise audience takeup and the availability of an adventurous choice of film in the regions.”
  •  The digital agenda: the BFI will work to raise its voice in the digital economies bill, the importance of broadband and the anti-piracy lobby. “We can’t be luddite about it,” says Nevill. “Broadband and digital delivery are coming, the dangers of piracy are growing. We need to get our act together and address this.” She includes the windows debate in this discussion. “How can we use public money to create financial models for new distribution systems? The UKFC did a great early pilot with NESTA, but I don’t think one is enough.”
  • Education. The BFI will take steps to grow the habit for cinema-going in schools. “We should use education to grow the love and passion for cinema in young people so that they become early adopters and we are fuelling the audiences of the future.”
  • Export. Although there is no budget for export, Nevill is pursuing initiatives with BAFTA and BBC Worldwide. Although these are not yet formulated, she said that the BBC could advertise British film on its BBC America channel, for example. “There is no point in investing in great British films and abandoning them at the Cliffs of Dover,” she said. “By exporting the films, you attract investment.” She also spoke about exporting British film culture overseas in a similar way that Tribeca and Sundance have done. “We have to look at strategic international treaties exporting our own culture.”
  • Research and statistics. The UKFC’s research and statistics unit (RSU) was originally thought to have lost its funding, but its funding remains intact for the next year during which the BFI will look for commercial partnership funding models.
  • Diversity. Although there is no funding for a discreet diversity initiative, Nevill says that diversity awareness, not just along race or gender lines but economic and social, will be built into funding agreements.

The new structure will see Nevill as director and underneath her a deputy chief executive which will be advertised next week. This “significant” new role will oversee specific areas including partnerships and funding with the regions, bringing in new revenue streams from consultancy, digital distribution and expansion of the BFI brand and the strategic projects office (major capital projects such as raising funds for the BFI archive etc).
Under Nevill and this deputy will be Heather Stewart, who is the newly promoted creative director of public programme in charge of BFI Southbank, the London Film Festival and all cultural activities; Tanya Seghatchian, Pete Buckingham and Will Evans come over from the UKFC on the same executive level.
Tim Cagney, who has been managing director of the UKFC since November, is not coming over to the BFI.
The 38 UKFC staff come over to the BFI under TUPE regulations which means that their salaries remain the same on transfer to another organisation. “We have had no wiggle room to change that,” says Nevill. “We have had to fundamentally restructure the BFI and bring in the senior people from the UKFC.”
In addition to its own grant-in-aid funds of £13.6m and a separate £5m allocation for the Screen Heritage Archive project, the BFI is now responsible for administration of:

  • £18m of Lottery Funding to The Film Fund, topped up with recoupment from successful investments;
  • £2m of Lottery funding to distribution and exhibition through The P&A Fund;
  • £358,000 to the Media Desk UK (grant-in-aid);
  • £4.5m to Creative England, of which £2.584 is grant-in-aid and £1.924m is Lottery;
  • £947,116 to Film London, of which £71,116 is Lottery and £876,000 is grant-in-aid;
  • £128,000 to Film Agency For Wales (grant-in-aid);
  • £3m to Irish Language Broadcast Fund (grant-in-aid, all ringfenced);
  • £1m to Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund (grant-in-aid, all ringfenced);
  • £3.654m to Skillset (Lottery);
  • £1.1m to First Light Movies (Lottery);
  • £2.904m to National Film & TV School (grant-in-aid, all ringfenced)
  • £580,000 to strategy, research, statistics & market intelligence (grant-in-aid);
  • £159,000 to the tax certification unit (grant-in-aid);
  • Film Club has to date received £4.6m of grant-in-aid funding but this comes from the Department for Education and the exact figure has yet to be finalised for 2011/12.

Areas which have lost specific funding are export, diversity, co-production and combating film theft and intellectual property.

So how will the BFI differ from the UKFC?
“I think it will be very different because different times demand different solutions,” said Nevill. “The UKFC was set up at a time when it was felt that the UK needed a shot in the arm to lift the industrial agenda of film, to look at the skills and encourage a longterm strategy of investment. In that respect, the UKFC did a very good job and it has a strong legacy. But the UKFC was set up as an arm of government which delivered film policy for the government. The BFI has reinvented itself in the last ten years. It isn’t owned by government and its job is not to do government policy.”
Nevill says that government now wants to work directly with industry rather than through a gateway model. “We will focus on development and production, digital, international, archive, education and audiences,” she said. “In those areas, we will put strategies together to support and champion and seed change.”
She said that the BFI would be shoulder to shoulder with industry bodies like PACT, Directors UK, FDA, CEA and Film Export UK in lobbying the government, but that it wouldn’t set itself up with any responsibility for sustainability. “You just can’t do that with £4m extra grant-in-aid,” she says. “I don’t want there to be a special enquiry or audit in ten years’ time asking whether the BFI has achieved a rise in box office. But do we expect to be standing up and cheerleading for the industry? Absolutely. That is our role and we have a really important voice for the industry, but the industry needs to do that itself on a day to day basis in direct relationship with government.”
Nevill is also confident that synergies will blossom between the BFI’s existing activities such as exhibition and distribution with the former UKFC functions of funding for film production. “I am excited by the prospect of what will emerge when Heather and Tanya get together for example,” she says. “It’s about making film-makers and audiences alike feel that we are the place that is driving the excitement.”

But Nevill sounded a note of caution that the BFI’s very nature is one as curator with a critical eye and that will continue across all strands of the new BFI. “The BFI brand champions cultural territory which we determine,” she says. “We don’t spend a lot of time championing film that doesn’t need us. We have to take a critical view and stand by that view whether we are selecting seasons for BFI Southbank or selecting films for the festival or putting money into film. And we have to understand as an organisation why were are making those decisions.”

“We are out to back success but we are also out to take many more risks than non-public money can,” she says. “The money is there to champion the success and the failure. That is the whole point.”