BFI launches "Britain on Film" project

 The BFI Britain on Film project is a huge archive digitisation and release programme

The BFI Britain on Film project is a huge archive digitisation and release programme

The BFI today launched its ambitious Britain on Film project today at a presentation at BFI Southbank, kicking off a long-running programme that will showcase over a century of filmmaking within and about the UK. A huge amount of the footage which will be released on digital free to see, the result of years of work within the BFI and other archives, will never have been seen before. Britain on Film is one of the largest and most complex archival projects ever undertaken and is part of the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (2013-17).

Along with film screenings at the BFI Southbank location and other satellite venues around the UK, one of the core elements of the programme will be a massive release of digitised archive film and TV material onto the BFI's digital player; BFIplayer. The total number of items available is expected to hit over 10,000, and the site will allow for searches not just by subject matter and shooting date, but by location, allowing visitors to the site to search for any archive footage shot in areas they may have had a past connection to.

The BFI's Robin Cook demonstrated a selection of diverse archived films, currently in the BFIplayer, to the audience at the launch, from evocative scenes from the Chester Regatta filmed in 1901, to the extremely bizarre recording of one of the Norse Viking Festivals from 1927 in Lerwick (complete with Walrus costumes). The idea is that Britain on Film won't just showcase feature films, but also 16mm home videos and newsreels, so as to capture the full kaleidoscope of British life since the birth of film. There will be news footage of famous faces, such as First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill visiting Belfast in 1912 and George Bernard Shaw entertaining at his home in 1951. But you could just as easily come across a film like Children's Excursion; a filmed school trip to the Firth of Forth bridge from 1952, which the BFI's Creative Director Heather Stewart discovered featured her mother and other family members.

 The BFI Film Map will help guide viewers to places from their own past

The BFI Film Map will help guide viewers to places from their own past

A variety of indoor and outdoor screening events, pop up cinemas and events in special non-cinema venues will also be part of the project. Even British Airways are getting in on the action with a special BFI channel that will showcase the material.There will also be new commissions for the programme. One highlight will be Penny Woolcock's new work Out of the Rubble, which will use a collage of archive material to explore the issue of housing -still a hot topic today, has anything changed?- since the 1960s.

From today the archives go digital on BFI Player, giving everybody in the UK free access to the growing range of film and TV titles. By 2017, thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be digitised. The public can get involved with the project via Twitter and Facebook, and a campaign launches today that sees 60 films from all over the UK released over 60 days, along with further special screenings, events and partnerships across the UK. 

Tying with this,  BFI Southbank is currently featuring London on Film, a three-month programme of over 200 films, on-stage interviews and special weekenders focusing on Soho, East End, and Waterloo and South Bank. You can read the review of one of the superb centrepieces of this programme, the restored version of the Bob Hoskins-starring gangster film The Long Good Friday, here.

You can see more at the BFI website and the BFIplayer.

The BFI have highlighted the following material that the curators thought was of special interest:

The Passmore Family Collection – the world’s earliest known surviving home movies (1902) feature 10 films of the family on holiday in Bognor Regis and The Isle of Wight and at home in Streatham, London. Michael Passmore, the filmmaker’s grandson, still has his grandfather’s original camera purchased in 1900 and now lives in Kent. Michael said “I am very proud of my grandfather's films; they have such a lot of movement and are never boring. The films capture the joys of family occasions and holidays so beautifully. I am delighted that they will be able to be shared with the rest of the country and hope they will continue to give pleasure to anyone interested in the history of home movies.”

SCOTLAND – Old Norse Viking Festival (1927): wonderfully bizarre folkloric rituals with locals dressed as Michelin Men, walruses, sheep and Vikings

Glasgow Tram (1961): a historic moment in time as the preparations and final procession of Glasgow’s last tram is captured in glorious colour by an amateur filmmaker

WALES – Tryweryn – The Story of a Valley (1965): a film made by local schoolchildren of the controversial flooding of Capel Celyn and Tryweryn Valley to make a new reservoir

NORTHERN IRELAND – Prawn Festival Kilkeel  & Lord Mayor's Show (1962): from the year it began, this film shows the huge crowds that came to the harbour every summer – now known as the Kingdom of Mourne Festival and still going strong

NORTHERN ENGLAND – Davy Crockett (1955): a police officer playing Davy Crockett rides through the city of Hull to get a road safety message across to children 

The Bradford Godfather (1976): a heart-warming documentary about the founding father of Bradford’s Pakistani community

Scenes at Chester on the River Dee (1901): shot during the Chester Regatta of 1901 by the pioneering British company Mitchell and Kenyon

THE MIDLANDS – Evidence (1935): first film used in an English court of law to prosecute an illegal gambling ring in the town of Chesterfield, with an appearance by three circus elephants

 SOUTHERN ENGLAND – Father Neptune Ceremony on Brighton Beach (1951): fun and frolics at Brighton Swimming Club, England's oldest Swimming Club, still going strong today

Films revealing the development of British Sign Language (1935) from The Deaf Association shot in Weston-Super-Mare

EASTERN ENGLAND – George Bernard Shaw’s Village (1949): rare footage of the celebrated playwright at home in Ayot St Lawrence, Herts, including extraordinary scenes with American actor and singer Danny Kaye

LONDON – Do Something! (1970): a community-based adventure playground project exposes division in a diverse local community in Islington

Covent Garden Porters (1929): porters perform near-impossible balancing feats with stacks of baskets, with incredible filmmaking demonstrated.

Key events and screenings around the Uk include:

Britain on Film will be reaching the British public in many different ways this summer all over the UK:
The BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) will be staging 85 screening events in 46 locations from Belfast to Canterbury and southern Wales to Inverness. Highlights include:
Glasgow – pop-up cinemas will show feature films set in Southside including Ronald Neame’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) and David Lean’s Madeline (1950) in Pollok House alongside regionally specific archive footage
Kent – Georg Hoellering’s Murder in the Cathedral (1951) screened in Canterbury Cathedral – as part of the Canterbury Festival on 27/28 October
Belfast – Culture Night, 18 September, will screen curated programmes of short archive films shown at the places where they were originally shot, or where there is a strong thematic link
London – an outdoor screening of Made in Dagenham at Parsloes Park, Dagenham, alongside a programme of archive film showing the urban history of the area
Further UK-wide partnerships and activity includes:
·         Luna Cinema and the BFI are launching a screening programme of feature films and bespoke Britain on Film packages in stunning National Trust locations throughout the UK from late August to October.

·         Highlights of each city will be shown on large, digital out of home screens in the key city centres of Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, London, Liverpool and Leeds throughout August, thanks to a new partnership with Ocean Outdoor. The Britain on Film trailer will be running across these screens in each city today.

·         Those arriving or departing the UK by air will be inspired by Britain as it once was, with a new BFI channel on British Airways in-flight entertainment launching this month and featuring Britain on Film footage.

·         From August, Caffè Nero will have viewing pods in 10 coffee houses across the UK for customers to kick back and view the footage, as well as providing Britain on Film branded coffee cups.

·         From 10-13 September, the BFI National Archive in Berkhamsted, East Anglia Archive and North West Archive will be opening their doors to the public as part of the National Trust’s Heritage Open Days

·         In London, BFI Southbank is currently featuring London on Film, a three-month programme of over 200 films, on-stage interviews and special weekenders focusing on Soho, East End, and Waterloo and South Bank.

·         London Live will be broadcasting a series based on London on Film gems as part of London Live's special new BFI London strand. Ranging from We Are The Lambeth Boys and the original Royal Festival of Britain, through to a young Jude Law appearing in The Crane, the titles will be aired in a regular early evening weekend slot throughout the summer, starting in July.

You can see more at the BFI website and the BFIplayer.


Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.