NFSA responds to critics

16 May, 2014 by Don Groves

The National Film and Sound Archive has responded to a petition which calls for more transparency in the Archive’s pending restructure and expresses concern at the extent of job losses.

Framed by former Melbourne Film Festival director Geoff Gardner, the petition asked NFSA chair Gabrielle Trainor to release a business review carried out by CEO Michael Loebenstein and to hold a series of open forums before final decisions are made on terminations, sackings and personnel restructures.


Indicating the depth of industry unrest over the Archive’s future, the petition has been signed by more than 120 directors, producers, writers, actors, academics and journalists.

Loebenstein takes a conciliatory approach in his response sent to IF. “I have communicated to Geoff Gardner my appreciation of the great care that he and the other petition signatories have for the NFSA and that I will be issuing a more detailed statement outlining the key principles driving the NFSA's newly focused strategic plan over the next weeks,” he said.

“In the interim I will continue to communicate and meet regularly with NFSA stakeholders about the restructure, as I have done for the past weeks.“ He noted Trainor is overseas and is sure she will respond at her first opportunity on her return.

In April, Loebenstein announced a restructuring entailing shedding jobs and reducing its touring program and the number of events at its Arc cinema in Canberra, blamed on increased operating costs as the archive continues to convert its library to digital.

The petition claims a proposal to reduce staff by more than 10% will lead to the sacking of some of the NFSA’s most experienced managers, administrators and industry-trained professionals. That's despite assurances from the CEO that there would be no forced lay-offs as the workforce is reduced from 206 to 178.

He has denied suggestions the NFSA will no longer offer access to its collection to Australia’s film societies and other community organisations.

“The NFSA remains committed to sharing its national audiovisual collection with the public,” he said. “We will continue to support screenings of quality films, and this service will be delivered as part of a new integrated model.

“The Screen Lending collection service (non-theatrical) will be part of a new Collection Reference Service and will continue to provide research and lending services to the public. Existing screening loan commitments and new bookings under the current system will continue unchanged until June 2015, by which stage a new system will be in place.

“Details about this new system will be announced following consultation over the coming months. As part of this consultation process, a senior NFSA manager will be attending the Australian Council of Film Societies (ACOFS) AGM in May.”

However some people believe that when the lending collection is transferred into the main collection, the NFSA will no longer pay for a licence to screen those films and that could mean that if a society borrows a film from the NFSA it will cost three times as much.

“It’s my understanding that the lending collection will be merged into the main collection and treated the same way,” Dominic Case, a former development manager and head of the Archive’s film branch, tells IF.

“Personally I don't think the NFSA has the resources to operate as a lending library as well as an archive. But if its collection is to be worth saving, then there must be an affordable lending service somewhere, somehow.”

The federal Budget cuts the institution's funding from $27.07 million in the current financial year to $25.9 million for each of the next two fiscal years.

Case adds, "Some might say that NFSA can’t afford to subsidise film societies, others might say they play a vital role in NFSA’s ambition to share its collection and should be supported. But with its present budget NFSA can no longer do everything it has taken on, or had foisted on it. Either programs have to be cut or it must find more money. It seems to me that a broader degree of public consultation would be appropriate."








  • filmart_dd

    I would be the first to say that NFSA needs many changes — no, that was first said to me by a former CEO.

    Also, and firmly, I say that NFSA is not like other Canberra museums and galleries (though that is clearly the aim of the managers) because virtually nothing of its large collection has been purchased. Everything was donated by the public, whether industry members or lay supporters. The expectation of such donors has always been, and will remain, that Australian material will in return be made visible in Canberra and genuinely accessible (not just “shared”) to people around Australia. As a matter of practice, that has not been the case: some staff may have tried but the access systems are so cumbersome and near impermeable, the silo demarcations within the organisation so stiff and insular.

    Ironical now, that the CEO says he wants to undertake meetings with stakeholders. Given its past methods and attitudes, how can NFSA now know who are those stakeholders and how to contact them?