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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Dismay at film museum 'tragedy'
Visitors to Momi could fly like Superman over London

The shock closure of London's leading film museum could deter investors from putting money into the arts, a former British Film Institute head has said.

Anthony Smith, who helped set up the Museum of the Moving Image (Momi) in 1988, said its demise, which was announced on Friday, was a "dangerous thing to do".

The museum, on the capital's South Bank, had been closed since 1999 to make way for refurbishment and relocation to nearby Jubilee Gardens, next to the London Eye ferris wheel, in 2007.

But those plans have now been cancelled.

Mr Smith, who said he had no idea Momi would never re-open, told BBC News Online: "It's a terrible tragedy - the closure has ramifications which go further than the BFI - it's an arts funding issue - much depends on private donations".

Momi was based under Waterloo Bridge
He said the failure of the museum to stay open could deter future investors from offering cash to arts institutions, many of which desperately need extra money.

Mr Smith - now president of Magdalen College, Oxford - said all of the 15m it cost to open Momi in 1988 came from private donations, with no money coming from the government.

"I assume the museum did not close purely because of funding - but I want to know why no one tried harder to keep it open," he added.

"We had the first museum of its kind in existence here in London, providing the educational entertainment people wanted - and it was a good policy to have it."

The British Film Institute, which ran Momi, would not expand on a statement which said it was planning a new Film Centre for the Jubilee Gardens site - "a dynamic, innovative centre for film and TV culture".

BFI chairman Joan Bakewell
BFI chairman Joan Bakewell highlighted the opening of a Film Centre
"Although we do not intend to recreate Momi in exactly the same way - as a separate paying attraction - we will provide a range of changing exhibition areas in the centre which will display our 2D and 3D collections," it said.

It added that its policy of offering access to "world-class collections... remains unchanged".

Momi offered visitors the chance to see early cameras and a huge collection of film footage.

It was also interactive, and visitors could fly over London Superman-style by lying in front of a blue screen.

They could also read the News at Ten, be interviewed by film critic Barry Norman, appear in a Western or create their own animation.


The chairman of the BFI, broadcaster Joan Bakewell, was unavailable for comment.

But she said over the weekend that elements of Momi should survive once the Film Centre - which would also replace the National Film Theatre and house the BFI's headquarters - opens in 2007 or 2008.

"Momi will not reopen again in its past form, yet we will have something at the centre," she told the Sunday Times.

The museum raised extra funds by charging an entrance fee, and at one stage was one of London's most popular tourist attractions, with about 500,000 visitors per year at its peak.

"Momi's closure should be of great concern to government ministers," Mr Smith said.


"If the government haven't had discussions with the BFI, I'd be amazed," he said.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport told BBC News Online it had "no plans to intervene" in the situation, and that it was a matter for the BFI.

"We understand Momi's collection will go on a tour of the UK - we hope it will still happen," said a spokesman.

The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford told BBC News Online the closure of Momi would not affect its visitor numbers as it re-opened, following refurbishment, after Momi closed in 1999.

Click here to go to BBC London Online

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