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1000s of unseen films reveal life in the UK since 1902

The Britain on Film project has made 1000s of archive films available to watch on the British Film Institutions BFI Player. It gives people across the UK free access to films and TV which represents the area where they live, grew up, or went to school. The huge collection includes a new discovery of the world’s earliest home movies from 1902.
On 7th July 2015 the British Film Institution (BFI) launched Britain on Film. It’s a new project which reveals hidden histories and forgotten stories of people & places from the UK’s key film & TV archives. The archives are digital on BFI Player, giving everybody in the UK a chance of free access to be thousands of films and TV titles featuring where they live, grew up, went to school and holidayed as a child, or anyplace of interest in Britain. By the year 2017, thanks to funding by the National Lottery and support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be digitised.
The public can also get involved in this project via Twitter and Facebook, with a campaign launched on 7th July which would see 60 films from all over the UK released over 60 days and special screenings, events and partnerships across the UK. It was also announced that there will be a newly-commissioned film from Penny Woolcock, using the material from Britain on Film.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:
“Britain on Film is a fantastic initiative and I congratulate the BFI and the national and regional archives on the huge amount of work they have put into creating a truly remarkable project. I’m particularly delighted that Britain on Film will be reaching the British public in so many different ways this summer all over the UK, and encourage everyone to check it out online via the BFI Player.”
The curators of the Britain on Film project have found extraordinary footage of ordinary people and place from across the collections. These include:
• The Passmore Family Collection – the world’s earliest known surviving home movies (1902). The collection includes 10 films of the family holidaying in Bognor Regis and on The Isle of Wight and at home in Streatham, London.
• Scotland
Old Norse Viking Festival (1927): Folkloric rituals with locals dressed as Michelin Men, walruses, sheep & Vikings.
• Wales
Tryweryn – The Story of the Valley (1965): made by local school children on the controversial flooding of the Capel Celyn and Tryweryn Valley to makes a new reservoir.
• Northern Ireland
Prawn Festival Kilkeel & Lord Mayor’s Show (1962): from the year it began, the film shows the huge crowds that came to the harbour every summer – it is now known as the Kingdom of Mourne Festival.
• Northern England
Davy Crockett (1955): a police officer drives through the City of Hull playing Davy Crockett to get a road safety message across to children.
• The Midlands
Evidence (1935): The first film to be used in an English law court to prosecute an illegal gambling ring in chesterfield, with an appearance from three circus elephants.
• Southern England
Films revealing the development of the 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. The film also includes scenes with Danny Kaye, an American actor and singer.
• London
Do Something! (1970): a community-based adventure playground project exposes division in the diverse community of Islington.
The newly accessible film & TV show a vibrant, diverse & eccentric Britain, while shining a light on the issues and situations which affect every generation. A lot of these films have never-or rarely- been seen. Since their first appearance. They can now be searched for by UK specific locations using BFI Player’s new ‘Film and TV Map of the UK.’ This tool also enables people to share the films with their family, friends & communities.
Heather Stewart, Creative Director for BFI states: “There’s a perennial joy in location spotting; couple this with the emotional power of film & Britain on Film has the potential to touch everyone in the UK.”
Britain on Film changes the archive landscape of film and TV. Britain’s National Collection of the UK’s film & TV archives should be enjoyed by everyone and now they can be. The scale of this project shows how much effort & skills the BFI National Archive and the regional & National archives of the UK have put in to it.
Through Britain on Film, professional & amateur footage reveals a moving and intimate portrait of the diversity of British life, vanished landscapes, urban and rural communities, historic traditions & folklore, people at work & at play and unique British characters in all their glory. Offering surprising insights into British life in the 20th Century are news reels, advertisements, home movies, forgotten TV shows and government department films.
The Head Curator at BFI, Robin Baker, states: “For 120 years cameras have captured almost every aspect of life in the UK on film, but too often these have been inaccessible to all but the most determined researchers. Now, Britain on Film is transforming access to films from the UK’s archives and giving new life to them by making them available, no matter where you live.”
The joint forces of the BFI National Archive and the UK’s National & Regional film archives & rights holders resulted in Britain on Film, which brings these films together with a major programme of curation & digitisation that is due to end in 2017 after starting in 2012.
Response to the archive by an artist – Penny Woolcock’s ‘Out of the Rubble’
Film makers often use this archive to help find inspiration for their work, meaning film archives are as much about the future as the past. The BFI wanted to see how an artist would react to the Britain on Film content and Penny Woolcock, who worked on the documentary ‘From the Sea to the Land Beyond – Britain’s Coast on Film’ with the BFI, was given free access to the archives to create an interpretation of the films. She has created ‘Out of the Rubble’ a powerful short film which delves into the issues of housing, poverty & immigration. The film is due to be released later this summer.
Britain on Film and Education
Make film-Greatest Generation is a nationwide filmmaking project. It has been organised by Into Film (the education charity), BFI, BBC Learning & the British Council. The project encourages 7-11 year old children to record interviews with the wartime generation members and combines the footage with the archive clips of Britain on Film to create their own short film documentaries. For more information visit: www.intofilm.org
Between 14th July and 30th September, Instagram users are being called for by BFI Future Film to contribute their photos and videos that showcase the diversity of people and places in the Britain on Film Instagram competition #BritainOnInstagram focusing on 4 themes; Britain’s Got Flare (LGBT Britain), Arrivals (celebrating Britain’s migrant community), Fiesta (festivals & carnivals) & Action Sports on Location.
About Britain on Film & Unlocking Film Heritage
Britain on Film is one of largest and most complex archival projects that has ever been undertaken, it is part of the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (2013-17). A key strategic priority for the BFI is Unlocking Film Heritage for everyone to enjoy in the UK and Britain on Film is the public launch of such a vast programme of work, which has been ongoing for over 3 years. The work has included a sophisticated programme of data capture, cataloguing, copying to archival standards, meticulous preservation of original materials, thorough searching of archives across the country, new state-of-the-art equipment and digital storage facilities and the transfer of films to the BFI’s online video platform, BFI Player.
Thanks to the £15 million funding from the National Lottery and the additional support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation the Unlocking Film Heritage & Britain on Film were made possible.


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