I used to write a column called ‘Downloads’ for Sight and Sound, about online movies. It wasn’t a very big or important column, it was tucked away at the back of the magazine in the reviews section, but I enjoyed writing it, and some of the people who read it told me that they enjoyed reading it.
On Friday I got the following email from the editor, Nick James:
I have some not good news for you, so I’ll get straight to business.
Since your call for Amanda to resign – something I’m sure you know she took very personally – your column, fine as it is, has become more trouble to me than it’s worth. To have someone who is on very public record of having called for her head as a regular contributor to S&S makes it look like we tacitly agree with you. We can’t do that.
The upshot is that we will pay you for the latest instalment, though it will not appear, and I’m afraid that will be that.
I’ll save any further obsequies for when I next see you.
My hurt feelings and anger aside, there are several things about this that are rather disturbing for anyone concerned about the general state of paranoia inside the BFI and the state of Sight and Sound itself.
The “very public” denunciation James is referring to is a jokey new year’s post I made on this blog at the beginning of this year. Now, I read the stats, so I know just how few people read what’s written here. Until today, the post that refers to Nevill has been read (rather pathetically) just 24 times. That’s a lot fewer people than I’ve personally had conversations in the pub with about Amanda Nevill (including Nick James) during the same time period. If you were to do the strictest, most suspicious Google search you could, that is, my name and Amanda Nevill’s name together, you wouldn’t find the post that James refers to. Contrary to her assertion in the Evening Standard, it seems that Nevill doesn’t have much of a sense of humour if two dozen other people have heard the joke.
I very much doubt that James, or even Nevill, found or read the post themselves: I suspect that someone has been on a fishing mission both inside and outside the BFI, and decided to make a point now of sacrificing someone. It seems likely when you consider the chronology. The post in question was published on the 3rd January this year. I was first asked to write the Downloads column a month later, in February 2007 for the April 2007 issue of Sight and Sound. Not once between February and now has James or any member of Sight and Sound staff indicated in any way to me that what I write on my personal blog might be an issue that affects the magazine. James’ letter on Friday afternoon (the BFI’s favourite time for delivering bad news) was the first I’d heard of it.
How does it feel to be blacklisted? Not big and important, because there are certainly people who have said more and worse about Nevill than me who continue to curate, write and programme for the BFI. Which is as it should be: an organisation with the BFI’s national importance, subject to inevitable controversy, should hardly be restricting its activities to working only with people who unequivocally personally support the director.
What I wrote about for Sight and Sound is completely unrelated to matters of the management of the BFI. I’ve probably got a few opinions about Romanian film that James wouldn’t like to condone, but they’re hardly relevant to a column that’s mostly about YouTube. What’s really worrying for anyone who cares about the BFI (as bizarrely enough I, and perhaps some of the twenty-four of you, still do) is the insane paranoia of the BFI’s current management and the very negative implications for the editorial independence and journalistic integrity of the seventy-five-year-old journal of record that is Sight and Sound.