30 Aug 2011

Reel British History: new archive facilities at the BFI

The British Film Institute have recently completed a new Master Film Store at a cost of £12m, built to house more than 45,000 cans of British film and preserve a national cinematic legacy. The facility in Warwickshire employs state of the art technology to ensure the longevity of its fragile treasures. Old film stock is notoriously difficult to store safely, likely to disintegrate entirely under the wrong conditions or combust due the highly flammable nature of the nitrate stock of much early film. The expansive new facilities of the Master Film Store offer a safer environment for these fragile materials.

The new facility presents an alternative to archival digitization projects, which, whilst helping to retain the content of older materials on the point of deterioration, is both an expensive and time consuming process, limiting the selection of films to be restored. As an alternative to the long-practiced approach of format conversion, the new facility presents a more cost-effective method, allowing the original material to be accessed safely.

The preservation project seeks to protect national film heritage in the manner of other decorative arts, raising awareness of Britain’s role in the development of global film culture and forming part of a £25m strategy for Screen Heritage UK (SHUK). The strategy represents the largest award ever given to an archival project. SHUK will allow people to search online catalogues of national and regional archives and access a number of films online. The project will launch early next month; further details of the SHUK strategy can be found here.

An interesting little film of BFI Head of Collections and Information, Ruth Kelly, showing BBC News around the old starage facility can also be found here. Kelly shows the old and new facilities, and offers examples of deteriorated film and the problems faced in storage and control.

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