East Anglian Film Archive possibly under threat
Eastern Daily Press
It is a unique collection celebrating the history of East Anglia in celluloid.
But speculation is mounting as to the future of the prestigious East Anglian Film Archive amid suggestions that its owners, the University of East Anglia, are considering moving it from its existing home.
Since 2003 the film archive has been based on the same County Hall site as the Norfolk Records Office on Martineau Lane, Norwich.
The archive moved from its previous home at the UEA to become part of the new Norfolk Archive Centre, following a £4.2m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, with the county council making a £2.2m contribution to the new site, and the UEA putting forward £300,000.
But now the EDP understands that the UEA is looking again at the long-term future of the archive, in response to cuts in higher education funding from government.
Staff have been told not to take bookings from groups requesting viewings of films for the period after August, which is the same time that a project to transfer films to a digital format will also end, with the contracts ending for those involved in the project. This has fuelled speculation that the archive may ultimately be on the move.
The university would not be drawn on whether the archive would remain at its current site or be moved back to the campus, and there are question marks about whether its work in the wider community could also cease.
But a UEA spokesman insisted no decisions had been made and said any changes would be about making material as widely accessible as possible.
“In common with all universities in the current financial climate, we are examining all our activities in some detail to ensure we can continue to offer a first rate education to our students,” she said. “Many areas are under discussion in the light of changes to university funding as a result of government legislation, which has yet to be finalised, but no decisions have been made.
“The East Anglian Film Archive is an important resource for the region and the university is looking at the best way to make it accessible to future users, including digitisation which is designed to widen access to the collection.”
David Cleveland, former director of the film archive, who worked on the pioneering project to bring it under the same roof as the Norfolk Records Office and who is about to publish a second volume of a history of film-making in the region, said researchers can currently enjoy easy access to the archive and it is also invaluable for training the next generation of film archivists who study an MA in the subject at the university.
“It’s in one place at the moment and it’s important that the whole collection is kept together,” Mr Cleveland said. “The facility at the Record Office is the primary archive for regional film archives in the country and still is one of the best. “It was set up to preserve those films, but also to make them available through the internet and other means. They are more than just moving images; they are also a whole collection, which sums up the history of the eastern region. They are all there for a reason – it’s a fantastic collection.
“You have also got the BBC and the Anglia Television collection. It’s absolutely unique; it’s a wonderful resource. It would be awful if the university wasn’t involved in some way.
“I know there are financial problems with universities and archives, but that’s everywhere. There is a British Film Institute and all the regional film archives. All of them are facing difficult times with money, particularly as the Film Council is being abolished, and I do know it’s been particularly hard because of the problems with Screen East.
“I would be very surprised if the University of East Anglia were to give up such a massive asset, which they took on in 1984. The East Anglian Film Archive covers the six counties of the Eastern region. It is a remarkable collection of picture films referencing our history. The research potential is massive, whether it’s for personal use, or the classroom, or national academic historians.
James Carswell, cabinet member for culture at Norfolk County Council, said the issue was a university matter and it would be inappropriate to comment. “I have been briefed on discussions that the UEA has had with Dr John Alban, director of the Norfolk Records Office, but no decision has been taken,” Mr Carswell said. “I’ve been advised that the UEA is looking at the fine detail, but until a decision is made, I can’t comment.”
Eek. I feared that something like this would happen eventually: as HEFCE (Central Government money predicated for undergraduate teaching) money to UK universities is cut, it was inevitable that they would be looking to trim cost bases that were not directly related to UG teaching and which were not substantially funded by external revenue. The regional film archives hosted by universities (i.e. most of them), sadly, are very much in that firing line. And of course this places the long term future of the MA even further in jeopardy.