British Film Institute CEO: Funding Challenges Could Affect London Festival

Keeping the fest at its current scale "will be quite a substantial challenge" amid declining government financial support, says Amanda Nevill.

LONDON – British Film Institute CEO Amanda Nevill on Wednesday warned that the organization will have a tough time funding the London Film Festival at its current scale amid continuing declines in government financial support.

"Keeping the festival at a scale in a way that exceeds our expectations...will be quite a substantial challenge," she said here during the launch event for the 57th festival, which is set to take place in October.

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She lauded Clare Stewart, BFI head of cinemas and festivals, who took over the fest last year, reduced its length, drew "record audiences" and boosted revenue. "I'm going to need a lot more of the same sort of thinking," Nevill said.

She did thank the British government, specifically the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, for its continuing support, while noting that its financial contributions now only account for 40 percent of the BFI's budget, with further declines in the coming years.

The BFI earlier this summer fell victim to a 10 percent cut in funding for 2015-2016 as part of austerity moves by the British government.

The latest reduction comes as part of the British government's ongoing austerity measures.

The BFI reacted with consternation, highlighting that the cut comes on the back of reductions amounting to 18 percent over the last two years.

"As a national cultural body which is also the catalyst for the growth of the film industry, we are shocked that film has not been protected alongside the U.K.’s other national arts bodies and museums," the BFI said at the time.

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It said the decision failed to "acknowledge film’s multibillion-pound [dollar] contribution to the economy, and instead puts film in the position of effectively subsidizing other arts organizations."

The BFI also warned at the time that it may have to "stop valuable frontline activities and reduce support for partner organizations."

Nevill on Wednesday, however, also warned about getting too wrapped up "in the pounds, shillings and pence of success," saying the film industry and its supporters must spend as much time on the art of film. "It's the pinnacle of all the arts" and has "more power to communicate an idea and enchant us" than other art forms," she argued. "It's the art of all arts."

Nevill vowed to work to have film "rightly recognized as the first art, and not the seventh art," which she said is important to sustain the financial success of film. And she lauded the festival's various sponsors, including principal sponsor American Express, which recently signed on for a further three years, and main sponsors American Airlines and Accenture.

Nevill said her team will work hard to ensure the festival is ever more valuable to supporters and sponsors. Plus, she said the BFI will look to find new ways to increase its revenue.

Nevill also confirmed previous announcements that her organization plans to launch a BFI Internet player later this year to provide unprecedented access to Britain's movie heritage.

The BFI has committed to digitizing 10,000 films by 2017, with experts and a public vote helping to decide which movies are included. The BFI Player will allow users to watch the movies on-demand.

Twitter: @georgszalai