National Media Museum blog

We explore the science, technology and art of the still and moving image, and its impact on our lives.

Memories of BIFF part 3: BFI’s Amanda Nevill – “It was an audacious move.”

Amanda Nevill is the Chief Executive of the British Film Institute, and was head of the National Media Museum (then the National Museum of Photography Film and Television) from 1994 – 2003.

Amanda was talking to Phil Oates. 

I can’t believe it’s the 20th Bradford International Film Festival. The credit really should go to Bill Lawrence, who proposed the first festival in 1995. He said to me “Amanda, I absolutely want to do this”, and I think he was the only person in the Museum who could make it work at the time. We soon found out putting on a festival was challenging – it was quite an audacious move, although looking back I also can’t believe it took 11 or 12 years (from the opening of the Museum) to do it. It seemed like a no-brainer.

We opened the first with The Madness of King George, and Alan Bennett was the guest of honour. To this day I think that film is a classic and remains one of the strongest opening films at the festival.

From that early success it went on to become a springboard for getting film industry people to the Museum, as it was, and still is, difficult getting people out of London. It was always gratifying when we exceeded their expectations. Some of the guests in the early festivals included Alan Bennett, of course, but I also remember Hugh Hudson, Alan Parker, David Puttnam, Jean Simmons, Ian Carmichael, to name just a few.

This year I’m particularly pleased to see Mark Cousins and Sally Potter among the guests. I think they have been absolute stalwarts and creative backbones of British film. Making a film is never easy but making a British film and getting it seen by a British audience is really challenging. Mark and Sally have refused to bow to the difficulties and have both continued to produce works with a true independence of vision.

Sally Potter’s Yes is just one of my all time favourites. I saw it in Berlin and I was totally entranced. What Mark Cousins has done for cinema cannot be overstated. His films and documentaries aren’t made to be seen in the same way as other films; these are made to last and be referenced forever.

And there’s Brian Cox –  where Mark and Sally have their creative vision, Brian Cox is an equally skilled actor. He knows his audience and knows exactly how to give them what they want in his performances.

Film festivals, particularly film festivals outside London, play such an important role in making film culture vibrant and exciting for as many people as possible. These annual celebrations, such as BIFF, are part of that lifeblood. I truly believe there is talent everywhere – Yorkshire will be awash with talent and BIFF will be bringing in those films that wouldn’t ordinarily get shown or distributed and showing them to a wider audience, which then in turn could provide the inspiration or creative spark that ignites a new generation of filmmakers.

This philosophy ties into the BFI Film Forever strategy – a rally cry to place film more centrally in people’s lives, and in particular British independent films that the majority of people in Britain don’t get to see. It is a reflection of my own particular passion.

This year there are once again some great titles in the programme that shouldn’t be missed – my own selection would certainly include Locke, Exhibition, Tracks and A Story of Children and Film.

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About Phil Oates

Press Officer at the National Media Museum, Bradford.

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