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Will Massa, Curator of Contemporary Fiction Film at the BFI National Archive, shares with us the joy of archive film, where it can be found, and how it can be used to educate.
As well as being thoroughly enjoyable in its own right, archive film is wonderful prism through which to explore our diverse history, society and culture. More than any other medium film can transport us immediately to another time and place, connecting us profoundly with the past. It can also help to foster debate, challenge assumptions, and explore the way values and representations have changed over time.
The British Film Institute cares for the national film and television collection, one of the largest archives of moving image work in the world. The archive was established in 1935 and its holdings are incredibly rich and varied, from rare short films made at the dawn of cinema in the late 1890s to the live capture of contemporary television. The collection represents a unique and powerful record of moving image production over the last 120 years, as well as a fascinating, evolving, portrait of Britain and its people.
We look after almost a million titles on a variety of formats from early nitrate film to born-digital files, and everything in between - so maintaining and developing our collections requires a dedicated team of curators, archivists and conservation experts who work together to ensure the nations heritage is safeguarded. Once curators have selected work for acquisition it is catalogued in detail and sent to our conservation centre where we employ state-of-the-art preservation technology to keep the collection safe.
Why do we do all this? Well, the collection is held in trust for the public and we want to ensure it is there for future generations to enjoy. But we are also committed to providing as much access as possible to the material we hold for audiences today. Our collections cover a huge variety of subjects and we encourage teachers to think about how they can use archive material creatively in the classroom:
Interested in LGBT or South-Asian Britain? Want a portrait of life during Edwardian times? Need to bring the Suffragettes to life? 2013 saw the launch of the BFI's own platform where audiences can access curated archive collections for free and engage with our flagship project Britain on Film, which digitised 10,000 films that are now explorable by geographic regions. Check out our newly launched Jewish Britain on Film collection.
From London to Glasgow, teachers and students can access an even wider range of curated programmes at BFI Mediatheques which are hosted in eight cities across the UK. These venues are perfect for school visits and sessions can be booked in advance.
This database contains information collected by the BFI since 1933. It holds over 800,000 film titles including television programmes, documentaries, newsreels, as well as education and training films and is updated daily.
Teachers are advised to view archive film to check that content is age-appropriate prior to showing it to students.
Check out the free family collection on the BFI player for a reminder of the joy of films from previous eras.
A resource to support integration of a wide range of archive film watching and filmmaking into your class or club.
Activity ideas, guidance and resources to help children and young people plan and complete an engaging documentary film.
A resource for students in Northern Ireland to work with NI Screen's Digital Film Archive.
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