Letter: Committed to an evolving canon of classics

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QUENTIN Curtis is right to say that the job of NFT programmer is probably impossible, but we fundamentally disagree that the "storm" being whipped up by one or two film critics reflects uncertainty in the BFI's mission for the NFT ("Bums versus buffs at the South Bank", 23 April).

The new programming policy places a commitment to thoroughly researched retrospectives of classic cinema at its centre. But these take much planning: the NFT shows films that no other cinema in the UK could screen, but doing a complete retrospective of any of the masters reveals missing prints which have to be tracked down, and titles that need restoration. The BFI's National Film & Television Archive is constantly preserving and restoring film materials to provide greater access to them through the NFT. The first fruit of this will be our comprehensive look at the work of Howard Hawks next year but, even before then, there will be large- scale retrospectives featuring Buster Keaton, Preston Sturges and Sam Peckinpah. However, a canon of classics is not written in stone but evolves.

Cinema is a mass cultural form and the governors of the BFI wanted the new programming team to create a busy, thriving national centre for cinema exhibition. That has meant positioning the programme to attract younger audiences and others who had felt excluded by what has been described as an litist and patronising approach in earlier years.

Wilf Stevenson

Director, British Film Institute

London W1

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