... while a pounds 50m movie HQ springs up by the Thames
Sunday 21 March 1999
Negotiations have been opened with the British Film Institute to create the new complex, which would incorporate the National Film Theatre, the Museum of the Moving Image, and a new Imax cinema with the UK's largest cinema screen, as well as advanced teaching facilities.
The NFTS has tutored some of the most successful UK film-makers at its current site in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, but is convinced the time is ripe for a move to central London. The BFI has already announced plans to sell its offices in the West End and move to the South Bank.
The NFTS is convinced that a link-up with the Institute will put its 150 full-time and 1,000 part-time students at the heart of a thriving network of British film-making.
A number of planners and architects are devising ways to redesign the South Bank to accommodate the BFI and the school. Using spare space in the adjacent Shell Centre is one option.
Jim Rodda, the school's finance director, said it needed to be based in London, the heart of the British film industry. "I think it would be exciting. It would help no end."
He said there were overlaps in the kind of screening and conference facilities that the school needed and which would be available on the South Bank. Students could also benefit from the BFI library and, perhaps most significantly, from the potential contacts. "Networking is a very important part of the business," Mr Rodda said.
Past students who have networked to success include Nick Park, the Oscar- winning animator of Wallace and Gromit, Mark Herman, who directed Brassed Off, and Roger Deakin, acclaimed director of photography on films such as the Coen brothers' Fargo.
The last planned redevelopment of the South Bank, featuring a wavy roof designed by Lord Rogers, had to be abandoned when the Arts Council decided it would not fund the project.
A spokeswoman for the South Bank centre said the new feature in the latest plans was a greater prominence for the film organisations. "The new ingredient is to have a film centre, creating a film street feel," she said.
But the project in London leaves a question mark over Ealing Studios in west London, home to classic Fifties comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit, which the NFTS bought for pounds 2.68m four years ago to convert into a new school.
The plans depended on Lottery funding and had to be abandoned when the Arts Council announced awards would be capped at pounds 15m, a long way short of the estimated pounds 30m-pounds 50m required.
The school is finalising details of the sale, which will be advertised within the next couple of months. As a charity, the school is obliged to secure the best return on its assets. But it is in discussions with lawyers to see how it can ensure they remain as film studios.
While the conversion plans were under way, Ealing has continued to be used. The BBC series Vanity Fair was made there and an American company is currently filming a remake of A Christmas Carol. A studio spokeswoman said: "We are very busy at the moment."
But the film industry is divided as to the future viability of Ealing where the stages are not big enough for making blockbusters. Lottery funding for smaller film projects has ensured a boom in the last three years. But if the level of activity slumped, then it might be more difficult to sell the studios as a going concern.
The London borough of Ealing has made clear it wants the studios to remain as a film centre. A spokesman said it would certainly object to any moves to transform the home of classic British films into housing or shops.
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