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BFI chief ankling after 9-year tenure

LONDON — Wilf Stevenson, controversial director of the British Film Institute for the past nine years, is set to leave in the fall to take a non-industry job under the new Labor government.

Though giving contractually less than a year’s notice, Stevenson has asked to leave on Sept. 30, when his duties will be taken over by deputy director Jane Clarke, until a replacement has been found. His resignation is to be discussed at a BFI board meeting at noon today.

Though he wouldn’t comment on the reports, Stevenson is said to be going to head a training scheme set up by the Treasury and the Dept. of Employment & Education.

During his tenure, Stevenson faced recurrent assaults by the press and others over his bottom-line financial management of the institute, during a period which saw declining audiences at the BFI’s flagship National Film Theatre. His lack of background in film and TV before taking the job never endeared him to industryites and movie buffs.

More recently, he oversaw a major pinkslipping exercise at the institute at the same time as launching an elaborate scheme (dubbed “BFI 2000”) to take the org into new areas, such as high-tech databases and an Imax theater, partly with Lottery funding. Critics bemoaned the BFI’s entry into such high-profile schemes while neglecting its traditional role as a preserver and presenter of film culture.

Late last year, under the BFI’s policy of “cultural renewal” in major posts, he fired Sheila Whitaker, head of the London Film Festival for the past 10 years. Whitaker came close to setting up a rival festival, and in the process triggered a public debate over whether the 40-year-old LFF should become an A-status competitive event.

“It is time to move on,” Stevenson said. “I do not believe anyone should occupy a key cultural post for an unlimited period.”

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