This article was first published in The Australian, April 16 2014.

Selective cuts to the national memory

Michael Bodey

THE slashing of more than 10 per cent of the National Film and Sound Archive’s staff has passed with relatively little comment outside Canberra.

Last week, Michael Loebenstein, chief executive of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, announced “a new business model and structure for the organisation” following a six-month review and consultation process.

Twenty-eight of the archive’s staff of 206 are expected to go. Loebenstein later told ABC666 Canberra that the NFSA “is not being dismantled, it’s moving forward”. He tells Reel Time: “The two key messages are we need to be able to live sustainably within our means and be able to build skills and capacities to engage in the digital environment. Existing programs such as screenings at Canberra’s Arc Cinema, exhibitions and the touring film festivals will be gradually replaced by new programs, with an increased focus on online delivery.”

He adds: “We’re not going to abolish the idea of a screening in front of a live audience” but there will be fewer screenings in Canberra as the NFSA aims to “see how we can serve the whole national footprint”.

Friends of NFSA president Ray Edmondson tell Reel Time: “It’s not a very responsible way to deal with the national memory.” He thought Loebenstein had previously “done a good job under difficult circumstances” but “the reality is all the cultural organisations have been cut year after year by the efficiency dividends. There’s no fat in them.”

Loebenstein’s statement to staff said the institution needed “to adapt the way we do business to take better advantage of technology and of our relationships with partners in industry and the community”. Essentially, the focus will be a push into the online environment and away from physical screenings and programs.

“We will be doing many things differently in the future so we are even more effective, innovative and relevant,” he says. “This means some things will not continue in the way we have traditionally done them.”

He denies the NFSA will drop all of its screening and research programs and become “a mere storage facility”, although he confirms a number of programs will be dropped in August. “We will continue to be a place where people and communities can engage with Australia’s national audiovisual collection,” he says.