(I recently wrote a piece on cancellation of BIFF for Screen Daily, which you can read at http://www.screendaily.com/news/bradford-international-film-festival-cancelled/5099938.article?blocktitle=Most-commented&contentID=-1
I had to cut it down for Screen but - with their permission - I have been allowed to publish the fuller, longer story as originally written on my blog. Time, or lack of, mean any mistakes below are mine and mine only)
Bradford International Film Festival cancelled
By Laurence Boyce
Move by National Media Museum signals concern over regional provision in the UK for arts and culture
As a furore brewed in the UK over the decision to move much of the National Media Museum’s photography collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – in an act described as cultural vandalism by some political leaders – it was also quietly announced by museum director Jo Quinton-Tulloch that the Bradford International Film Festival would not be returning to city and museum situated in the North of England.
The festival, which began in 1995, had slowly carved itself a reputation as a well-regarded event on the national and international circuit. With a number of significant premieres during its history – include the widely publicised UK premiere of Chris Morris’ Four Lions in 2010 – the festival also welcomed numerous guests over its history including Kenneth Branagh, Brian Cox, Ken Loach, Richard Attenborough, John Hurt, Terry Gilliam, Mike Hodges, Alex Cox, Tom Courtenay, Derek Jacobi and Pawel Pawlikowski amongst many others.
The Festival was also seen as a key component in helping Bradford being named the very first UNESCO City of Film.
Reaction to the news that the museum would not be holding the festival was swift and vociferous with local councillors and industry representatives sharing their dismay in local press.
The last edition of the Bradford International Film Festival was held in 2014 and then put on a hiatus pending a review. Screen Daily asked Neil Young – who worked for the festival from 2005 and was the co-director of the event during its last three editions – about how he heard the review was taking place.
“I was told about the review in July 2014 after hearing that various media outlets including the BBC were (prematurely) reporting the "cancellation" of BIFF. I contacted my BIFF colleagues in some alarm and was assured that this wasn't the case, and that a review was under way - one which would involve various interested parties including myself. In January 2015 I emailed Jo Quinton-Tulloch to see how this review was progressing, and was told that the Museum "hoped" to host the festival in some form later that year. After that, nada.”
Screen also asked Museum director Jo-Quinton Tulloch about how the review took place and the underlying reasons for cancelling the festival. She told us:
“The review was an internal process which has been shared with Museum advisors. It established a rationale for looking at previous Festival activity and how we should engage in future events. The review concluded that Museum Film Festivals should link to our core remit and strengths, as well as showcase and celebrate past and future cinema technologies. Festivals should make strong connections with our unique collections and the new focus on the science and culture of light and sound technologies, and they should also be based on a viable financial model.
Our new focus is based in STEM (science, engineering, maths & technology) and the new mission will concentrate on inspiring future generations of scientists and engineers in the fields of light and sound, as well as demonstrating the cultural impact of these subjects.”
Screen also asked Quinton-Tulloch as to whether this meant that the Bradford International Film Festival had been a sustainable event. We were told
“BIFF’s viability relied on a combination of things, including both internal resources and external funding streams. Due to significant reductions in grant-in-aid funding (the Science Museum Group’s has been reduced by almost 30 per cent in real terms since 2010), we have had to reduce operating costs - including reducing staffing in several departments. This has inevitably had a knock-on effect to certain areas of the Museum’s public programme.”
Much of the dismay surrounding the cancellation of the festival is related to what some see as an ever dwindling commitment to film from the NMM. Two other festivals (Bite The Mango, focusing on Asian cinema, and the Bradford Animation Festival) stopped running as events in 2010 and 2014 respectively and the majority of the Museum’s cinema activities have been outsourced to Picturehouses (a museum spokesman told us that “In terms of our regular cinema operation - the Museum partners with Picturehouses. Programming, technical, marketing and front of house services are delivered by Picturehouses with a significant contribution from most Museum departments.”)
When asked whether this did indeed mean that the Museum was no longer committed to film, Quinton-Tulloch told Screen
“Film remains a very important part of our future plans, but our festival programme needed changes to make it sustainable and aligned with the new focus. We will continue to run a film festival of international scope – an extended Widescreen Weekend (supported by BFI) which welcomes guest speakers and cinemagoers from around the world.
We are also a partner with Cine North - the rural touring cinema scheme, home to a BFI Mediatheque facility and we host film events in partnership with various local and national organisations. Our recent £800,000 investment to digitally upgrade our IMAX cinema demonstrates both our commitment to film and the unique package of film provision offered at the Museum.”
News has also emerged that the National Media Museum – which opened in 1983 as The National Museum of Film, Photography and Television - was once again thinking of changing its name (with The Guardian revealing that the Science Museum North is currently being considered as one of the possibilities). There has led to some concern that the cancellation of the festival is a symptom of a perceived cultural and institutional disregard in the UK for anything that occurs outside of London.
David Nicholas Wilkinson is a film distributor with Guerilla Films and film director who was as a patron of the festival helping them to secure guests and films. He told Screen:
“Just when the North is becoming a powerhouse the timing is appalling. The North will continue to grow economically and the next 20 years I foresee as a boom time so the message it sends out is somewhat depressing for Bradford as an important centre for trade and industry. It also shows once again that the British film industry is really the London Film Industry.”
When asked whether she believes that the announcement will add fuel to the fire to supposed negative perceptions of the regions, she told Screen
“We are very confident our regional offer remains strong, and that the National Media Museum is firmly part of that offer. We have adapted our film programme along with other activities here to align with our new direction and to ensure we can continue in a changing landscape of reduced resources. We believe we are offering a realistic solution in a challenging environment, and we also welcome offers and opportunities to work with external organisations to host cinema events here.”
Neil Young is slightly more sceptical
“I was saddened but unsurprised [about the cancellation of BIFF], having proceeded since July 2014 on the likelihood that the festival wouldn't be returning in any meaningful form. This official confirmation is therefore rather like that Lord Lucan death certificate - but in neither instance do we actually have a "corpse"! Needless to say, I disagree with Jo Quinton-Tulloch comment in her email issued yesterday where she simply said that BIFF was "unsustainable" - a one-word 'explanation' for the termination of a 21-year-old festival which, thanks to the sustained efforts of people like Bill Lawrence and Tony Earnshaw, gradually built relationships with local audiences and the national industry - along with a genuinely international reputation that was clearly a factor in that unique UNESCO honour.
I only yesterday got back from the Rotterdam film festival where over the course of a week at least a dozen film-makers, journalists and programmers from various countries asked me about BIFF and when it was coming back - evidence of how the festival helped to increase Bradford's profile on the international cultural map. And now they'll be reading these headlines. Bradford deserves better.”
There are some who hope that the festival will return away from the auspices of the museum, with David Wilson – head of the Bradford City of Film – telling Bradford paper Telegraph & Argus “The National Media Museum have hosted it for the last few years, yes, but they are not the only player in town. We are not throwing in the towel on the film festival. I'm certainly not.”
Young adds for Screen Daily
“As many people have pointed out, Bradford is perfectly capable of hosting such an event outside the auspices of a government-run institution - it's worth remembering that the vast majority of the world's film-festivals aren't operated in this way. And announcements like yesterday's are of course eminently and depressingly predictable in the light of the British government's unambiguously hostile attitude towards the arts since 2010.”
Since Screen Daily spoke to Jo Quinton-Tulloch, she has made a statement via the NMM website: http://blog.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/2016/02/04/my-message-to-bradford/