BFI to write itself out of education?

The British Film Institute in its latest review looks as though it is set to move its publishing out to another agency. The concentration of bfi activities on its London venues, alongside a withdrawal from direct involvement in education publishing and DVD distribution is a serious blow to the further development of film and media education. The institute is putting more of its resources into its online presence, but can this be a substitute for what it once did in a more concrete way? Awareness of the plans of bfi director Amanda Nevill is now beginning to seep out to a wider constituency of film and media teachers thanks to actions by leading academics, co-ordinated via Meccsa. For detailed information, go to Prof. Pam Cook’s recently launched blog, bfiwatch.

One response to “BFI to write itself out of education?

  1. As the conceiver and series editor of the BFI series of teaching resources ‘Teaching Film & Media Studies’ ( I have become increasingly concerned about changes in BFI policy and management of educational titles over the last two years, so the recent e-mail is no surprise. I can only speak from the limited perspective and interests of my own series, and I am well aware of the threats to a broad range of products and services (not to mention personnel) that the BFI’s ‘re-alignment’ proposes, but I wanted to share my concerns now.I have hesitated to say anything before because clearly I have vested interests here and I thought it would just be interpreted as self-serving and… well, it also all looked rather inevitable, but I am choosing to do so now on behalf of the many talented and hard-working colleagues who have joined me on the series, as well as authors and editors of other BFI educational resources. I have certainly been cheered to see the co-ordinated responses on Pam Cook’s blog from similarly passionate people and urge that MEA adds a co-ordinated voice to the outcry.Before I continue, it should be said here that my sympathy lies firmly with BFI staff ‘on the ground’ who have had to cope with the almost permanent state of review for which the BFI has now become legendary in recent years. I have tremendous respect for their resilience and loyalty against a background of sustained uncertainty. However we as authors and editors might feel about the future of our publishing projects, at least it is not our jobs that are being threatened by these changes, whereas the same cannot be said for some of our colleagues, and I’d like to say friends, at the BFI. It must be stressed here that any criticism of the BFI below is absolutely not directed to any of the BFI colleagues with whom I have worked so closely and productively over the past 7 or more years.I have been very uneasy about the increasingly commercial steer in the BFI, as far as agreeing new proposals for my series has been concerned, and frustrated by the lack of commercial resources in helping to get the products out there. This paradox is doubtless but one of many in the institution…I strongly believe that educational resources produced by a publicly-funded body such as the BFI should not necessarily be subject to the same kind of market forces as commercial publishing projects and we have proved the success and need for such resources, both in terms of critical reviews, sales and feedback from colleagues. The same is true not just for my series, but for a whole range of BFI Education resources, some of which have won national awards and maintained steady sales over several years. My colleagues who publish educational resources in more commercial contexts might not agree with me here and might be happy for BFI Education resources to disappear or be subject to the same strictures as they are, but I don’t know…By definition, resources for teachers will never achieve as robust sales as textbooks for students (apparently especially those with an exam board logo on), so it’s hard to see how a major commercial publisher (what other kinds of partners are being courted?) would be interested in them unless the pricing is very high or the scale of operations is small and they are content to have a niche market (in which case other small/niche publishers might be interested perhaps? Or a professional association perhaps?), but who knows… I have made several suggestions for streamlining the series and making it more cost-effective, imaginative, updatable and competitive but have given up in the face of the lengthy BFI internal consultation process and dithering. I have other suggestions/ solutions but as I don’t own the copyright for the series (note to self…), I have to wait until this consultation period is over and see what is proposed – perhaps it will be a happy ending after all?It seems to me that teachers of film and media studies/education at various levels (and their students, who surely must be the key future consumers of BFI products and services, that is, if they will ever be able to work out what the BFI is actually for?) should be the core market for BFI publishing. I do however understand that even within this constituency there are many competing priorities for shrinking funding within an organisation that is evidently struggling to find its identity and purpose, despite various attempts at re-structuring, re-branding and mission statements.I am well aware that the demise of BFI Education publishing could be others’ gain and so there might not be a storm of support, but I hope that our series (which expanded way beyond our initial modest expectations and which, I gather, has delivered the most successful educational resources the BFI has ever had) has served film and media teachers and students well since it started in 2001, firstly by providing much-needed resources and secondly by providing a platform for experienced and new writers to share best practice in media and film teaching and so is worth preserving somehow. In many cases our titles have fed into the provision of BFI and non-BFI inset led by these authors which has refreshed the inset landscape a little and encouraged more colleagues to get involved with inset and workshops, rather than just ‘the usual suspects’ – mind you, I have also been delighted to have had many of these ‘US’ on board for the series too! A look in the archives at the writers of early BFI education resources from the 1970s/80s shows the names of many now illustrious writers and HEd personnel and it could be suggested that this kind of BFI ‘training ground’ was a healthy and lively source of talent well worth preserving.I am not sure how the series’ diversity and range (and several rather more unusual titles have sadly been vetoed under the new commercial philosophy in the last two years, which in turn potentially means that the scope of what is taught is perpetually homogenous and safe if there are no resources to support them) could survive in a fully commercial context, but I am prepared to listen (and have no choice in any case) to options if they were presented. But I fear that a packaged decision (as per the e-mailed BFI FAQs suggested) will preclude any chance of options or discussion. Also, the more providers of educational resources there are, the more we each raise the bar for each other surely! Again, each different range or series from the various providers has different formats and approaches which are all well-received – the scope of the subject area (and its multitudinous possible topics and texts) is so broad that no one publisher can possibly hope to cover it. Unlike the 1980s when many of us old hands started teaching, schools and colleges do now have money for resources and many departments abound with copies of resources from each and all of the main resource providers, so a wide range of products seem to co-exist happily from a financial pov.I think that the BFI’s educational resources are probably the most under threat from the new re-alignment. I can imagine that the book list could be an imprint of a major publisher (mind you, but what about less popular or highly specialist titles? what about the future chances of more unusual research being published in future?). But educational resources? A commercial partner might be more difficult to find for the reasons stated above. If found, will all titles remain, or will there be a ‘cherry picking’ approach, whereby diversity might therefore be compromised? What about DVD or CD-based resources? I have no clues to as to outcomes here and I don’t know how others feel, so you might not share my concerns. It would be a great shame if all that has been produced so far was ditched and I know I am dedicated to continuing and developing the TFMS series in some form, there are new titles I want to develop, new authors to work with (and tried and tested ‘old’ ones too!) and I am sure that the series is needed, especially in the face of more specification changes and curriculum expansion – and I am sure that other BFI authors and editors must feel the same about their projects too.I post this with some trepidation as I have no idea how other people feel or how this will be received, not least by the BFI itself, but here goes.Vivienne ClarkSeries Editor – BFI Teaching Film & Media Studies

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