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Going for Gould

GOOD GOULD: Gaylene Gould and BFI’s head of exhibition, Clare Stewart, at an event in October

"YOUR TIMING is good," Gaylene Gould tells Life & Style when we sit down to talk about being in the newly established role of BFI Southbank’s Head of Cinemas and Events.

It’s been almost a year to the day since Gould’s role was announced, and she admits to needing time to get to grips with the landscape at the BFI, which was no easy feat.

It’s been almost a year to the day since Gould’s role was announced, and she admits to needing time to get to grips with the landscape at the BFI, which was no easy feat.

She said: “I had previously worked at the BFI, right after I graduated, as a film programmer with a very special interest in African diaspora cinema and I’ve worked internationally in that area. I’ve always been interested in what we call exhibitions – the bit where you show the films, not the bit where you make them.

“I think there is a real power in sitting in a room with other people watching work that just amazes you, so I’ve always had an interest in that and always had an interest in bringing strange work to audiences that might not get to see such work.”

She added: “What’s great about coming back to the BFI now as head of programme at the Southbank venue is I am able to bring all of that expertise together to think about how
I can bring strange, obscure but popular work that speaks to people and emotionally moves them.

“I call most organisations of this size a really well-oiled fast-moving train, so when you join, you just have to jump on and find the rhythm really quickly and somehow get yourself to the front of the train. That’s what I have been doing for the last year.”

Gould has been immersed in all aspects of film and particularly festival events for most of her working life.

By her own admission she has seen “hundreds of thousands” of movies and has a fondness for independent cinema, the type of which she will be looking to elevate to new heights during her tenure.

EXPERIENCED: Gould walked into her current role with a wealth of more than 20 years of cross art form programming experience

Her specific duties at the BFI range from leading the programme at BFI Southbank, the UK’s national cinematheque and one of the most vibrant and important arts venues in London, to reporting into BFI head of programme and acquisitions, Stuart Brown.

Gould will also drive audience development, business planning and an eclectic, unique public programme of agenda setting film and television screenings and events at BFI Southbank.

This includes contemporary and classic film, BFI special projects and seasons, one-off events, on stage interviews, premieres, previews, regular monthly strands aimed at a wide range of audiences and educational programmes.

Talking about getting her teeth into the role, Gould explained: “I’ve been working with the programmers really carefully, looking at how they work, how they source work, the kind of conversations and questions we have around that, working with our learning and engagement team about how we create conversations and contexts around the works that are interesting and playful and speak to broader audiences.

“We’ve done lots of experiments this year which have been kind of fun.

“I think some of the highlights were a thriller season we did last year.

“We were really looking at how we create a international story around thrillers. So how do we bring African thrillers in? Are there African thrillers and if so what do they look like? Also, how do we take over the whole building to explore thrillers from all sorts of different angles?

“We brought in speakers from all over the world in a whole day take over called the big thrill and that was a really good experience for us to be able to say how can we create something more dynamic conversations about what cinema is and what it means.”

Gould walked into her current role with a wealth of more than 20 years of cross art form programming experience and has consulted on projects most recently for The Tate, The National Theatre, The Independent Cinema Office, Barbican, RSC and the BFI’s Black Star blockbuster project in autumn 2016.

Her previous roles have included creative director of Film Club, head of programme at The
Bernie Grant Arts Centre, national project manager for BFI season Black World (2006), project director at Arts Council England and programming and events roles at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Hot Docs and Africa at the Pictures Film Festival.

Walking through the BFI offices it would have been remiss of Life & Style not to notice and mention the dearth of black people that seem to operate within the framework of the BFI. Was this an issue for her?

“I’ve been in the business a long time – I first came to the BFI in 1992, so I have a long history of doing this work, and that has to go somewhere,” she said. “There is nothing more frustrating than having all these ideas and experiences but having nowhere to put them.

“So, on a personal level it’s important to me because this learning can have an impact on people but it has to have a scale in which that can be implemented.

“So yeah, it’s really important. It’s important for one’s own sanity but it’s really important in terms of how that is then able to change the cultural landscape.

“The only way you will see things change is if people with these niche stories have a voice and a way to implement it.”

Looking forward, Gould said there was plenty to be done but first, she plans to celebrate a year in the role in style.

She said: “I’ve told the team I want champagne and roses, so they know.

“But it’s also going to be a really good time, I am going to celebrate by doing a massive analysis of the past year and we’ll share that with The Voice: what have we actually learnt from last year?

“So I am looking forward to getting into that.”

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