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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Film archive 'safe' despite cuts
By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Amanda Nevill with Lord Attenborough
BFI director Amanda Nevill pledged to protect the archive
Plans to overhaul the UK's film and TV archive have been set out amid strong opposition.

Up to 25 job losses will be made at the National Film and Television Archive, run by the British Film Institute (BFI), staff were told on Tuesday.

The archive, which keeps material from film classics to forgotten TV shows and adverts, is in danger of decay unless reforms are made, managers have said.

But opponents recently warned the plans may lead to "irreparable devastation".

The BFI says job losses - which come as part of a wider restructuring of the BFI - will be made among staff whose specialist technical skills are no longer needed at current levels.

The BFI's National Film and Television Archive in Hertfordshire
The BFI's National Film and Television Archive is in Hertfordshire
"No core skills are being lost," a spokesman told BBC News Online, adding that new staff with new skills would be recruited.

The BFI also said the archive would spend 8m over five years to bring storage up to scratch and focus restoration and preservation activities on "culturally important" or high-risk film.

The BFI has admitted its current archive conditions are among some of the worst in the world, and says changes are necessary to bring it into the 21st Century.

A curatorial team of about 20 specialists is being created to decide which films and TV programmes are the most significant to the nation and need priority attention.

But the BFI insists this will not be done at the expense of the rest of the archive, despite the fears of opponents.

Our criteria is material which is absolutely integral to that rich tapestry of life that makes up British film culture
Amanda Nevill
BFI director
A group called Custodes Lucis (Guardians of the Light), which has attracted support from almost 700 film-makers, archivists and students, has provided fierce opposition to the overhaul.

The group has said the BFI's plans threaten "to dismantle one of the world's most admired and emulated film conservation units".

But BFI director Amanda Nevill told BBC News Online: "You have to put policies and practices in place to ensure that the most critical material is looked after.

"But that doesn't mean we don't look after the rest of our stuff.

"We are as interested in the Guinness adverts as we are Mrs Miniver - it's that wonderful richness," she said.

The BFI has committed so many blunders in the recent past
Mike Hodges
"Our criteria is material which is absolutely integral to that rich tapestry of life that makes up British film culture."

Custodes Lucis also said the BFI wanted to reduce the archive's annual budget from 3m to 2m. But the BFI says the budget is increasing from 2.7m last year to 3.2m in 2004.

Ms Nevill pledged that the BFI "can stabilise all of it so it is going to last, no matter what we do, for a lot longer".

She added that there had been a lot of "noise" from critics of the BFI's management.

"To some extent I find that noise quite endearing because people are so passionate about the archive, they are so anxious about it that they are ready to imagine the worst," she said.

By cutting such a significant number of the workforce... the work of the archive will be undermined
Tom Bell
But Get Carter and Croupier director Mike Hodges, who signed up to the Custodes Lucis campaign, told BBC News Online: "The BFI has committed so many blunders in the recent past.

"The latest document they have produced with regard to the archive is so robotic in tone that they have only themselves to blame for the current furore."

Broadcasting and entertainment union Bectu said they "disagree with the strategy" that led to the job cuts.

"By cutting such a significant number of the workforce, including people with highly specialist skills, the work of the archive will be undermined, not improved," Bectu national official Tom Bell said.

"It seems they want to put the emphasis on the curational side, not the technical side, which seems to be a fundamental mistake."

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