For more than a century, movie cameras both amateur and professional have been capturing footage of everyday life in Britain, from the urban to the rural, at work and at play. This vast, largely unseen archive and untapped national resource, filled with forgotten stories, memorable characters and hidden histories, is now accessible to all, following one of the most complex curatorial projects ever undertaken by the British Film Institute, which saw thousands of films tracked down, catalogued and digitised – preserving them from the ravages of time. They are now available online via the BFI Player, and have been organised on a Film and TV Map of the UK, enabling viewers to search the important locations from their own family histories.
The films date from 1895 to the present day and include the world’s earliest known surviving home movies, from 1902 – 10 films of the Passmore 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 which was purchased in 1900, and said of the BFI project: “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.”
As well as ranging through decades of time, the films cover the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, vividly capturing stories as they happened and offering new perspectives upon events. In Wales, for example, Tryweryn – The Story of a Valley (1965) is a film made by local schoolchildren of the controversial flooding of Capel Celyn and Tryweryn Valley to create a new reservoir.
North of the Border, Glasgow Tram (1961) shot by an amateur film-maker, captures the final journey of Glasgow’s last tram in glorious colour. From the Midlands, Evidence (1935) was the first piece of film used in an English court of law, as part of a prosecution of an illegal gambling ring in Chesterfield, and features an appearance by three circus elephants. Meanwhile, The Bradford Godfather (1976) tells the story of the founding father of Yorkshire’s Pakistani community.
Heather Stewart, Creative Director, BFI, said: “Britain on Film changes the film and TV archive landscape forever. It’s vital that the UK’s film and TV archives – Britain’s national collection – can be enjoyed by everyone, and now they can. The unprecedented scale of this project is a testament to the collaborative effort and skills of the BFI National Archive and the regional and national archives of the UK.”
There will be a programme of events and screenings throughout the country over the summer to celebrate the completion of this groundbreaking project.
Britain On Film can be discovered via the BFI Player at http://player.bfi.org.uk/britain-on-film
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