After a career at the BFI spanning 30 years, Heather Stewart is to step down in September 2021 from her current role as creative director. She will take on a new position as BFI director emeritus.
As director emeritus, Stewart will continue to be an ambassador and advisor to the BFI, with a focus on strategic archive development and worldwide fundraising and philanthropic engagement. She will continue to contribute to the BFI’s cultural programme as a guest curator, speaker and writer.
Stewart said: “I love the BFI, and I’m very proud of what we have achieved. I inherited an incredible legacy to build on, and hope my successors will feel the same. All I ever want is for people to be able to expand their horizons by seeing great films.”
Ben Roberts, BFI chief executive, said: “We are indebted to Heather’s commitment to expanding our appreciation of cinema, her advocacy for the continued care and investment in the BFI National Archive and always challenging the status quo – within the BFI and across the cultural landscape. I have learnt an incalculable amount from Heather and I’m delighted that she will continue to support and advocate for the BFI in a role which recognises her long contribution.”
Martin Scorsese added: “Heather has worked tirelessly to ensure the long term safety of the world class film collection held by the BFI National Archive. Through the outstanding preservation and restoration programme of the BFI, audiences across the world have the chance to rediscover and enjoy British film. We wish Heather well in the next phase.”
Sir Steve McQueen also said: “Heather has made an amazing contribution to film culture in the UK, developing the BFI National Archive, the public programme at the National Film Theatre, in festivals, and online, and Sight & Sound. All are world class. Her sincere belief in public service, and making sure that everyone has a chance to engage with great film, has meant that literally millions of ordinary people across the UK have been able to enjoy their film history, and history as lived through film. I wish her well, and hope we will still work together in the future.”
Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas concluded: “Heather’s incredible knowledge and love for film culture will be missed enormously. Her advocacy and hard work has meant that audiences today can enjoy real film, on the big screen, all around the world. It’s been a privilege to support Heather’s outstanding commitment to the art of film. We look forward to seeing what she does next.”
Having graduated in art history, Stewart eventually made her way to the BFI by way of NYU Film School, starting out by curating and releasing the BFI’s first ever home entertainment release (pioneering early British filmmakers on VHS) which paved the way for the launch of the BFI’s hugely successful DVD label.
Building the BFI’s DVD label gave way to the BFI’s cinema distribution arm and over the rest of her career, Heather’s commitment to public access and audiences UK-wide has driven transformation across the BFI. As head of archive, it was recast into a fit-for-purpose 21st century facility with a world-leading digital preservation and data management infrastructure, while safeguarding the national collections through construction of a state-of-the-art £12m Master Film Store at Gaydon, Warwickshire in 2012. The re-location of the BFI Reuben Library from BFI Stephen St to the cultural quarter on the Southbank in London (at BFI Southbank) has increased public access almost tenfold, with (pre-lockdown) 85,000 researchers and visitors a year. Most recently, Stewart and Sight and Sound’s Editor in Chief Mike Williams have been working on the reinvention of the 88 year old film magazine, with a major re-launch later this year.
Over the last 10 years as creative director, Stewart has been responsible for the strategic and creative leadership of the BFI’s cultural programmes, placing the collections of the BFI National Archive at their centre. Under her leadership, millions of members of the public have accessed their film heritage through Britain on Film, she introduced the BFI annual blockbuster season, the BFI London Film Festival has been reinvented and repositioned as a key international festival and through Distribution and VOD service BFI Player, audiences have been able to see the BFI’s rich cinematheque programme wherever they live. Dynamic programming such as Electric Shadows, a year-long collaboration with China; Black Star, both a celebration of black actors’ work and through new research, a critique of what is available to actors, and hugely successful international touring programmes, including the Hitchcock 9, showcasing BFI restorations of all of Hitchcock’s existing silent British films, extended the BFI brand to audiences worldwide, provoking crucial conversations about our art form.