Academic, producer attacks UKFC control

LONDON — One of the most vocal critics of the current regime at the British Film Institute has thrown his hat into the ring to become the org’s next chairman.

Colin MacCabe, an academic and producer who served as the BFI’s head of production back in the 1980s and its head of research and education until 1998, lodged his application Nov. 22 to succeed Anthony Minghella, who finishes his five-year term at the end of December.

But in a provocative act, MacCabe addressed his letter not to the U.K. Film Council, which oversees the BFI and is responsible for the appointment, but to James Purnell, secretary of state at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

That’s because MacCabe believes the UKFC should never have been put in charge of the BFI in the first place.

“The BFI, as a royal charter institution, should, like all other royal charter institutions, have their chair appointed by direct ministerial decision,” he wrote to Purnell. “The decision to subordinate the British Film Institute to the UK Film Council … inaugurated a tragic decade in the BFI’s history, when it lost its international reputation as a center of excellence.”

MacCabe is not just applying for the chairmanship of the BFI. He is arguing for a fundamental restructuring of the UK Film Council, and a rethink of its production funding policy.

Given the intimate relationship between the UKFC and the Department of Culture, it seems highly unlikely that his politically incorrect candidacy will get very far. The UKFC is thought to want another big-name filmmaker to follow Minghella. But there aren’t many around with the time and appetite for such a sensitive unpaid post.

MacCabe, who oversaw pics such as “Distant Voices/Still Lives” and “Caravaggio” in his stint at the BFI and now serves as Distinguished Professor of English and Film at the University of Pittsburgh, insists he’s serious about wanting the job. Whether his application will be taken seriously is another matter. But at least it should ruffle a few feathers.

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