bfifull.jpgThere are some lovely spaces in London institutions. The Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern has rarely been filled, but feels majestic in its own right – almost as if to cleanse your art palate before hitting the galleries. Big opening halls in classical museum do much the same job, the courtyard in the British Museum has an airiness which is a respite from the overload of (stolen) cultural heritage. So I really see what they have done with the National Film Theatre, now rebranded as BFI Southbank (as opposed to BFI Stephen Street?). They have a nice new entrance and a big, light, airy space to greet you. Though this photo nicked from the Guardian website looks a bit busier than it was on unday when I went to see Dirty Ho.

I see what they have done, but this is not a neutral space. THERE USED TO BE A MUSEUM HERE. A really good museum. And thus turning that terrific space into a new large empty space seems a bit of a waste. Its a nice space. They have slid in a poshish restaurant, and a nicely boho bar*. They have put in a media resources are – the Mediatheque** – which could well be the saviour of the entire institution from an educational viewpoint (they have all the Plays For Today in existence there at a button press for you to see). They have however made all of this out of a space which used to be a concise but thorough museum and in return only put one new screen in, the informal studio (which I haven’t been in but assume is like the extra screen at FACT). Oh and a Gallery, which is another word for a room showing video art.

I hate video art. No, lets rephrase that, I hate the way video art is generally presented. And unfortunately whilst I really like this small installation***, I still think it is being presented badly, with the same old dud video projectors on white wall aesthetic I thought the BFI might challenge. Still it kills two minutes while you wait for a seat at the bar and trip over all the cables running from plug sockets to the earnest film students laptops.

I hope the new BFI bits manage to engage people in film more, perhaps the studios free screenings during the day of interesting documentaries will make it a more browsable institution. But I fear the signs for the Delegate Centre, and its big open space easily dressed for conferences may be more of the way the institute is going. It needs money, it needs people. I thought it needed space too, but clearly not so much anymore.

*The film cafe under Waterloo Bridge is still there, and seems to relish its new position as bastard stepchild of the BFI rather than the main entrance. Its flaws have been somewhat reduced and the hordes there on Sunday kind of made the new swanky BFI bar look a bit underutilised. Still no-one knows it is there yet.

**If your going to make up a word, make up a British word for the BRITISH Film Institute.

***Jennifer & Kevin McCoy Tiny, Funny, Big and Sad, which is a teeny Potty Time-esque moving dioramas of standard film settings, moving and projected live. It is a lovely little installation but having four in the same room, projected side to side does not show them off to their best effect.

Do You See   The Brown Wedge   Art   Film