Purnell declares £25 million for film archives

MUMBAI: On the verge of the Times BFI 51st London Film Festival, culture secretary James Purnell has announced that the UK Film Council (UKFC) has been awarded £25 million to safeguard the future of the UK‘s national and regional film archives.


This £25 million fund is in addition to £3 million from the UK Film Council for the UK Digital Film Archive Fund. It will enable the UK Film Council to implement its screen heritage strategy to preserve the visual memory of the UK and ensure access for all.


Using the funds the UKFC will preserve and restore the British Film Institute (BFI) national collection and the regional collections, some of which is deteriorating and in danger of being lost; ensure a joined up strategic approach to making the collections safe and overcome issues around rights, digitisation and skills investment; increase accessibility to the public and enable archive material to be accessed around the regions.


The BFI National Archive is one of the world’s greatest collections of film and television and one of the most accessible.


The majority of the collection is British material but it also features a significant number of works from around the world. And it contains more than 60,000 fiction films, 120,000 non-fiction titles and around 675,000 television programmes, which is well over 500,000 hours of material. But much of the content of the archive is in danger of being lost and much needs to be restored. An estimated 30 per cent (123,000 cans) of the acetate collection is deteriorating.


Purnell said: “The archive is a national treasure. It’s a visual history of Britain since the moving image began. From the earliest silent newsreels to CinemaScope to 3-D, the BFI archive is one of the greatest collections of film and TV in the world. It’s vital that we safeguard its future. This additional £25 million will secure the future of the national and regional archives. It’s absolutely right that they should be safe and accessible for future generations.”


UK Film Council, Chief Executive Officer, John Woodward added, “This is a fantastic boost for our nation’s screen heritage which brings to life the UK‘s cultural, social, political and economic history.  We are now in a position to take forward our plan for screen heritage in the UK which has been developed in partnership with the sector. This money, together with £3 million of UK Film Council funding to digitise film archives will mean that the regional and national archives can protect, preserve and showcase their amazing film collections for audiences across the UK to enjoy.”  


Amanda Nevill, Director of the BFI said: “Through our emerging and nascent projects such as TV co-productions, online access activities and the Mediatheque, we have proved just how hungry the public is for archive and heritage film and how much they value it. This level of investment will mean we can once again set a world standard in conservation and preservation and bring into view so much more of our precious heritage captured on film and that the public is clamouring for.”


The national archive: Public interest in film heritage was demonstrated in the BBC TV series “The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon” and attracted a television audience in excess of 4.5 million each week.


In schools, DVDs of the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection are a useful teaching tool in aspects of Key Stage 3 history.  The BFI has released a number of DVD compilations of films from the archive as free teaching aids to support primary and secondary teachers. The first of these specifically explores the topic of Citizenship and Britishness.


The regional archives: The regional film archives actively search for, acquire, and then provide access to film and video material specifically relevant to their regions.  Almost all of the collections are non-fiction (feature films being the remit of the BFI, and they vary in size from one individual film to a collection of hundreds of titles.  At the North West Film Archive, the Manchester Ship Canal Company donated 175 reels of professional industrial films, dating from 1908 to the 1970s recording the historical breadth and depth of the company’s domestic and maritime exploits. On a larger scale still, the East Anglian Film Archive holds over 1,200 award winning films, dating from 1932, made by the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers – a collection of national and international interest.