Where next for the British film industry?

The body that funded The King's Speech is being axed and the BFI library is under threat.

The culture minister Ed Vaizey's November 2010 announcement of the coalition government's plans for the future of the UK film industry heralded "the new BFI". Following the abolition of the UK Film Council (UKFC) in April 2011, the restructured British Film Institute, guardian of the nation's moving-image culture since 1933, would become the new strategic body overseeing the development of British cinema, in partnership with Film London and the Regional Screen Agencies in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. As Vaizey said, the BFI would change fundamentally as it became the lead body for British film.

The BFI responded with a proposal for "a new film era in the UK". This involves adapting to the current financial environment by prioritising core BFI activities, "those that audiences most value". In addition to incorporating staff from the axed UKFC, the BFI is faced with a 15 per cent budget cut that requires efficiency savings, including job cuts. Key features of the "new era" proposals are a large-scale digitisation programme, necessitating investment in new skills; the removal of the BFI library and reading room from the institute's Stephen Street premises to BFI Southbank; and the establishment of a bespoke study centre for academics and researchers in Berkhamsted. In tandem, there will be a drive to reduce overheads, boost new business and increase fundraising income.

As details of the plans emerged, alarm bells rang about the effects of the cost-cutting measures on the BFI national library, a world-class collection of print materials on the moving image and the gateway to UK film culture and history. The BFI library is used by a broad range of people, but historically higher education has been its primary market and this has underpinned the development of moving-image education in this country. Academics, researchers and students from across the globe rely on central London access to its materials and the support of its specialist staff. The relocation plans involve moving substantial amounts of the library collections to the Berkhamsted storage centre and the reorientation of the library reading room to the general public as part of the BFI's audience development programme. The opening up of the BFI to the wider public is admirable -- but in the context of the coalition government's draconian cuts to the higher education sector and the devastating impact on the arts and humanities, the plans for the BFI library appear to be a retrograde step, with fewer staff operating a curtailed service. This would represent a serious threat to film and television studies research and education world-wide.

A group of senior academics mounted a campaign to keep the library collections together and accessible, and set up a petition to gather public support. The comments from signatories testify to the high regard in which the library and its staff are held by a large international community of users, and the value placed on its accessibility. Despite BFI assurances that the library service will benefit from the relocation plans, many questions remain: about space and storage availability at the Southbank site; about the timescale and costs of the digitisation programme; and about the impact of staff cuts on the library service. It's clear that the library is not a priority and is unlikely to be improved by the proposals.

There is more at stake than convenience. It's shameful that one of the most prestigious and valuable library collections in the world, the repository of our national film culture, should be struggling for survival. A new era for British cinema without the infrastructure of ideas, research, critical analysis and knowledge held by the BFI national library, disseminated by education at every level, is unthinkable.

Pam Cook is a writer, blogger and academic. She is responsible for bfiwatch, an independent blog dedicated to tracking events that have an impact on the work of the British Film Institute

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How wine crosses national boundaries

With a glass of wine, and a bit of imagination, wine can take us anywhere.

Wine offers many pleasures, one of which is effortless movement. You can visit places that make the wines you love, but you can also sip yourself to where these grapes once grew, or use a mind-expanding mouthful to conjure somewhere unrelated but more appropriate to your mood. Chablis, say, need not transport you to damp and landlocked Burgundy, even if the vines flourish there, not when those stony white wines suit sun, sea and shellfish so well.

Still, I’d never been to Istria – a triangle of land across the Adriatic from the upper calf of Italy’s boot – either in vino or in veritas, until I tried a selection of wines from Pacta Connect, a Brighton-based, wine-importing couple obsessed with Central and Eastern Europe. 

The tapas restaurant Poco on Broadway Market in east London has fiercely ecological credentials – it uses lots of locally sourced and sustainably grown food and the space is a former bike shop – but this fierceness doesn’t extend to entirely virtuous wine-buying, thank goodness. I’m all for saving the planet: waggle the eco-spear too hard, however, and I’ll be forced to drink nothing but English wine. Trying each other’s wines, like learning each other’s customs, is vital to understanding: there’s no point improving the atmosphere if we all just sit around inhaling our own CO2 at home.

The world is full of wine and it is our duty to drink variously in the name of peace and co-operation – which are not gifts that have frequently been bestowed on Istria. I have sought enlightenment from Anna, the Culinary Anthropologist. A cookery teacher and part-time Istrian, she has a house on the peninsula and a PhD in progress on its gastronomy. So now, I know that Istria is a peninsula, even if its borders are debated – a result of Croatia, Slovenia and Italy all wanting a piece of its fertile red soil and Mediterranean climate.

From ancient Romans to independence-seeking Croatians in the early 1990s, all sorts of people have churned up the vineyards, which hasn’t stopped the Istrians making wine; political troubles may even have added to the impetus. A strawberry-ish, slightly sparkling Slovenian rosé got on splendidly with plump Greek olives and English bean hummus, topped with pickled tarragon and thyme-like za’atar herbs from the Syrian-Lebanese mountains. A perfumed white called Sivi Pinot by the same winemaker, Miha Batič, from Slovenian Istria’s Vipava Valley, was excellent with kale in lemon juice: an unlikely meeting of the Adriatic, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Sivi Pinot is another name for Pinot Grigio, which seems fair enough: as long as we can raise our glasses and agree to differ, names should be no problem.

But sometimes we can’t. The other Slovenian winemaker on the menu, Uroš Klabjan, lives three kilometres from the Italian city of Trieste, where his Malvazija Istarska would be called Malvasia Istriana. Either way, it is fresh and slightly apricot-like, and goes dangerously well with nothing at all: I see why this is Istria’s most popular white grape. His Refošk, an intense red, is also good but there is a complicated argument over when Refošk should be called Teran. Like battles over parts of the Balkans, these wrangles seem incomprehensible to many of us, but it’s sobering to think that wine can reflect the less pleasant aspects of cross-cultural contact. Intolerance and jingoism don’t taste any better than they sound.

We finish with Gerzinić’s Yellow Muskat and rhubarb parfait: Croatian dessert wine from an ancient grape found around the world, with an English plant transformed by a French name. There’s nothing sweeter than international co-operation. Except, perhaps, armchair travel.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain