About the Centre
Research projects
Contact us

ARCHIVE STUDY DAY - 23 February 2001


Laura Mulvey Professor of Film and Media Studies, Birkbeck College
Director, AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies
Frank Gray Director, South East Film & Video Archive, University of Brighton
Luke McKernan Head of Information, British Universities Film and Video Council
David Curtis

British Avant-garde and Experimental Film Collection,
Central St Martins School of Art & Design

Jenny Hammerton Senior Cataloguer, Pathé
Steve Bryant Keeper of Television, Department of Collections, BFI
Patrick Russell Keeper of Non-Fiction, Department of Collections, BFI
Chris Galloway Keeper of Fiction, Department of Collections, BFI
Patrick Keiller Film-maker

Bryony Dixon BFI
Cate Elwes Project Leader – ‘Digital Video’, Camberwell College of Art
Malcolm Le Grice

Head of Research, Central St Martins School of Art & Design
Associate Director, AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies

Sylvia Harvey

Professor of Broadcasting Policy, Sheffield Hallam University
Principal Associate Director, AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies

Ann Jones

Birkbeck College
Administrator, AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies

Mike O’Pray Reader in Visual Theories and Film, University of East London
James Patterson Director of Media Archive of Central England, University of Nottingham
Al Rees Senior Research Fellow, Royal College of Art
Felicity Sparrow Freelance curator and PhD student, Royal College of Art

Ian Christie Professor of Film and Media History, Birkbeck College
Ben Cook Director, the Lux Centre


1. Introduction – Laura Mulvey

Laura Mulvey welcomed the group and outlined the scope of the study day. One aspect of the Centre’s work is investigation of the archive as a means of innovation; this work is to be initiated through small groups and study days such as this.

The AHRB is keen to promote interdisciplinarity and this fits very well with the Centre’s ideas in terms of archives. Today’s discussion should consider how:

Although most archives and collections emphasise the importance of gaining the widest possible diffusion for, and access to their materials, it is important to remember that this may well be a process that starts on a small scale. For instance, academics with an interest in a particular area can identify ‘hidden’ works within collections (in collaboration with archivists), widen interest within the academic community through intellectual debate and critical writing, working towards diffusion into the public domain. Ultimately, this method of approach may build up interest in a new area of moving image history or aesthetics, renewing existing canons, and introducing new materials into circulation.

She drew attention to the fact that the Centre is for British film and television studies, and suggested the possibilities here for contributing to and broadening debate on the contribution of film and television to national history and culture.

Finally, she pointed out that this is a period in which moving image availability and methods of use is changing rapidly with new technological developments.


2. Frank Gray, South East Film & Video Archive, University of Brighton and Luke McKernan, British Universities Film & Video Council

Frank Gray raised a number of key topics:

SEFVA will be appointing a Junior Research Fellow for two years to start to address mapping the collections, starting with the public sector.

This is an exciting historical moment with the arrival of the Film Council and Resource (the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries), both of which are creating new agencies in the regions. There should be the opportunity to do interesting new work.

Luke McKernan gave a paper entitled A Short History of Film Archiving.

The paper concluded: In short, the focus has shifted, and our sense of film history and film culture has shifted. That history and that culture is, or should be, a far broader and more complex picture than the traditional history of cinema which the national film archives were founded to preserve. It is necessary to put in that qualification, because we need to reflect on why the attention of students and researchers is drawn to certain sectors of the overall national film archive, and not to others. To what extent is there a canon of films obscuring the value of other film holdings, other histories of cinema? What can be done to encourage academic or creative interest in the less frequented corners? Is such a potential interest justified? What can the history of film teach us that the history of cinema does not?

There are many kinds of film archives and film collections in this country. The British Universities Film & Video Council’s Researcher’s Guide now identifies some 450 moving image collections in the UK that are open to some degree or other to researchers. They range from stock shot libraries to news film libraries to subject specialist collections to television libraries. Few are concerned with preservation, but without preservation we will end up with no film heritage at all. We must never forget this. Meanwhile, let us uncover and learn from all that we can. The variety and the complexity and the richness of the moving image records of our time should not only entrance those future generations that were evoked in 1912, but demand our fullest attention here and now.

Malcolm Le Grice identified the archive as having two separate key functions:

James Patterson pointed out that the nature of the medium is such that availability becomes an issue since machines are needed to facilitate access. However attitudes are changing in the archiving community, when JP started at the BFI the emphasis was on preservation at all costs – making the works available used to be seen as very secondary. Now there is political pressure on access imperatives and the mindset is changing. Also new technologies are making it more economically possible to provide access. These factors auger well but making material accessible requires increased resources.

Patrick Russell felt that investment in resources needs to be more intelligent; the discipline of the private sector is coming into the public sector.


3. David Curtis, British Avant-Garde and Experimental Film Collection, Central St. Martins

David Curtis is attached to the Centre as a Senior Research Fellow and outlined his work setting up a study collection of artists’ film/video. The collection is not an archive – it contains copies rather than original material, it is a collection of knowledge rather than of things. The material in the study collection is from DC’s time at the Arts Council of Great Britain/Arts Council of England. Moving images are on tape; paper documentation is in the form of photocopies and includes hand written and unpublished information.

The first phase is mapping the territory:

There are two other potential databases:

The second phase of the project will be to:

There are ownership issues to be resolved and also issues about how to develop the collection – it could potentially be digitised and made available online.

Mike O’Pray felt that using the collection for public access was less important than academic research. PhD students come with their own interests, their research helps to attract interest in the archives and contributes to their development. He also mentioned the particular problem of finding and conserving 8mm material from the 80s.

Frank Gray highlighted the challenge of archiving the present – both film and accompanying material.

Sylvia Harvey questioned the archive options where works are multi-screen – Cate Elwes felt that 3d graphics programmes were useful in this respect – artists often present computer-based mock-ups of how a piece will look. CE also highlighted the difficulty of awakening students’ interest in the history of video. LM felt that DC’s chronology would be useful in this respect to fill in the gaps.


4. Jenny Hammerton, Senior Cataloguer, British Pathé

Jenny Hammerton introduced the Pathé collection – a library containing about 4000 hours of material. The collection is a library rather than an archive – the priority is access rather than presentation.

Pathé is primarily known as a news film library, but in addition to the Newsreels (produced twice weekly 1910 – 1970) the collection also features:

Pathé’s main business is now supply of materials to TV documentary makers; the trend is towards social documentaries.

Pathé have made a bid to the New Opportunities Fund to make the collection more available to non-commercial users, including free access to schools, libraries etc in the form of low quality streamed images. The Digitisation programme is underway, with 1200 hours of material transferred to digibeta. The project involves re-cataloguing every film with keywords plus a full description. Users will then be able to search by keyword and get a storyboard of images.

Since Pathé is a commercial organisation it has been hard to open up the collection to non-commercial users, currently some individuals within Pathé encourage access but there are no formal structures in place. Hence some academic users get free or reduced-cost access, whilst others may be charged the full rate.

Malcolm Le Grice asked what research Pathé had done into the best methods of storing digitised film – do Pathé use MPEG? – this is something MLG needs to resolve for the CSM Study Library.

Luke McKernan reported that the BUFVC have funding to set up a managing agent and advisory service for those needing to put moving images online; this covers areas such as rights clearance as well as technical issues. The contact at BUFVC is Greg Newton-Ingham; there will be a website, which will provide information and training days are offered. However there is no one answer – best standards change constantly. NOF have their own specifications for putting moving images online. Often the standards set are deliberately low quality to prevent unauthorised copying.


5. Frank Gray, Director, South East Film and Video Archive

SEFVA is one of eight public sector regional moving image archives. It is part of the Film Archive Forum (FAF).

Regional archives are shaped by place and form partnerships with other organisations (Local Authorities, Universities, Regional Arts Boards etc). They may include amateur and corporate material, the history of moving image technologies (including non-standard formats such as 9.5). There is expertise in preservation and an emphasis on the distinctive nature of particular localities (film making in Brighton, for instance, started with Robert Paul in 1895).

SEFVA works with local authorities and organisations concerned with regional culture: schools, libraries, museums, record offices etc. It has been involved with a NOF project on the English Seaside, which also involves 9 local authorities. FG is interested in how collections can work together, and in interaction between artforms; SEFVA has undertaken projects with artists – mainly musicians. The Year of the Artist residency (currently recruiting) at the BFI is an interesting development. In addition to its archeological/historical interest, the variety of film, gauge, genre etc. in the collection also challenges the concept of dominant cinema.

Approximately 40% of the material in the SEFVA collection is from the late 20s and 30s; this is largely due to the nature of the depositors. The collection has the potential to inform many histories including:

As a public sector archive, SEFVA is committed to free access for academic use; changes are kept to a minimum for museum use. Digitising the collection and putting it online is a future aim; as for CSM there are questions to be resolved around the issue of technical standards.

For SEFVA research is a key part of archiving – when film is acquired research is needed to gather documentation and understand the context of the work.

SEFVA gives presentations in Universities, village halls, community centres etc, this allows archive staff to meet audiences and acquire knowledge.

James Patterson described the Midlands Film Archive as being some way behind SEFVA – the project has only had a f/t staff member for about a year. The collection includes approximately 300 films. The project has a wide range of support including the universities of Nottingham (where the project is based) and De Montfort. A bid is being made to the AHRB. The archive is current stored in Gloucester but hope to get its own facility. JP sees the role of the regional archive as:

FG described material in regional archives as being outside dominant film history. MLG felt that regional collections will gravitate towards the space between home movies and cine-societies – work which has been shown in cinemas tend to be held in national archives; regional archives therefore hold archaeological and historical material of more interest to other disciplines rather than film studies.

SH reported that the Communications White Paper includes:

JP felt the government’s understanding of media literacy to be far removed from his own, however the emphasis on media literacy within the White Paper provides a good opportunity to define the term.


6. British Film Institute

Steve Bryant outlined the scope of the BFI’s collection, the NFTVA; there are three acquisition sectors:

Bryony Dixon has responsibility for access.

The current legal basis of the TV collection is the 1990 Broadcasting Act. The ITC determines how much ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 designate to the National TV Archive; the archive is covered by the 1989 Copyright Act, material is recorded off air. The NFTVA receives enough money to record to broadcast standard as transmitted:

Additionally, some material is donated on video.

The BBC charter includes a section stating that the BBC shall maintain archives and make material available through national and regional organisations. The NFTVA receives donations on video and records off air; it holds the entire output since 1990. A new agreement with the BBC allows the archive to make material available for academic study on BFI or regional archive premises; the material may also be put to educational use and used for teacher training days.

The archive is involved with the International Federation of TV Archives, which is looking at ways to expand broadcasters’ collections; most countries don’t have national archives, although France is very advanced.

The main re-use of TV archive material is in new programmes – IFTVA gives an award for reuse each year.

The NFTVA reports to ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 each year on how it has spent their money; this report details how many titles were studied breaking the figures down into research, academic and journalistic requests. The current trend is towards school education, this is in line with government directives.

The NFTVA have made a submission to the DCMS in response to the Communications White Paper; the response includes a lot about media literacy as well as proposals to expand the scope of the national collection to cover cable and satellite. SB felt that responses should concentrate on the issue of media literacy, to get across the point that there are communities which need to access material and which are currently not being well served. Bryony Dixon reported that of the BBC material held, most viewing is of feature films though experimental work also features.

Patrick Russell outlined his remit as keeper of non-fiction – the scope of this section of the NFTVA is non-fiction, excluding broadcast TV.

The canon comprises:

There is a national dimension to the cine-club movement – regional archives have specialist expertise but there is also a national role. Non-fiction material has value as social record; it also has value to a range of academic disciplines. Other research communities – such as TV programme-makers, film researchers etc – access non-fiction material. Use of the material includes visual content – as visual wallpaper and as deep content.

Archivists constantly have to make value judgements over what to include. There is a need to build primary research at the point of acquisition into the archiving process. DVD publishing allows scope for inclusion of additional material.

A main area of current concern is: how to create more interaction between the archive and the academic community without overloading present staff and existing commitments?

DC questioned how the gaps – such as black/Asian, avant-garde etc – are filled. PR said that this is through pro-active contact.

Chris Galloway, newly appointed as keeper of fiction, outlined the scope of his role. The fiction collection centres on British and British-related productions and includes experimental and avant-garde film; there is currently no statutory deposit system. CG stated that although the NFTVA is a national archive it has limited resources, this has an impact on staffing levels.

The BFI corporate plan places emphasis on actively engaging with minority and marginalised communities; they are currently developing policies with the assistance of other relevant organisations such as the London Disability Forum.

In selecting material:

Bryony Dixon picked up on FG and JP’s description of interaction with depositors regarding acquisition of context along with the artefact – for a national collection there is a question of scale. Personal relationships don’t build up in the same way – this is a problem. BD is excited about the idea of working with other groups to build up a repository of context which could feed into many other things.


7. Patrick Keiller, film-maker

Patrick Keiller’s interest in use of archive footage originated with the idea that film-making might be simplified by not originating own footage – this is actually not the case. This interest manifested itself in a film for Channel 4 on housing stock. PK described his previous work as radical subjectivity on pre-existing places; this film is on the physical production of the built environment – specifically domestic space.

Researcher Judy Patterson spent approximately 4 weeks in archives, but much of the film PK used was from existing knowledge or anecdotally sourced; much of the footage is relatively recent.

The built environment has changed much less than anticipated in the last century – the high-rise city envisaged in Metropolis hasn’t emerged, instead existing districts have been gentrified (eg Chelsea in the 19th Century and Camden in the 20th). Hence new lives are lived in old physical space, but space is transformed in other ways.

There are issues open for debate on how to exhibit archive footage – assemblies may be possible for publishing on the internet possibly as a virtual city following from one location to another, or though exhibitions.



Frank Gray introduced the session, highlighting the need to work with existing initiatives rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel. Two immediate priorities are:

To date there has been little funding available for archives to collaborate, but FAF archives are working together on a project on the Festival of Britain.

BD cited Out of Sight, the international film and television archive festival in Nottingham, as a good recent development; the festival is particularly useful in allowing students to develop projects and to exhibit. The Lumiere Project, which ran from 1995-2000 involved archives working together to restore films; this project was very successful.

The website was discussed as a site for information exchange and for gathering information on collections and academics working in the field. SH reported that MeCCSA (Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association) has a good JISC mailing list and is interested in creating an archive working party – the contact at MeCCSA is Tim O’Sullivan.

MLG raised the question of technical standards – access to study materials can be maximised by on-line/digital dissemination, but the technical questions (use of DVD, MPEG, VHS, QuickTime etc). BD said that BFI on-line is currently investigating this; LMcK confirmed that Greg Newton-Ingham is the specialist in this area at BUFVC. CG felt that the different delivery mechanisms of the new technologies will have a fundamental impact.

Technical standards should not be considered in isolation; content and resources are also key, and all three questions must be considered in parallel. With regard to resources, JP asked to what extent the Centre is interested in creating a lobby to seek to increase resources; there is currently little room for manoeuvre and access is not possible without the resources to do the work. LM responded that the Centre funding is invested in fellowships, so the Centre is interested in mechanisms to initiate debate and lobbying in a cost-free way. The Centre also hopes to tap into other funding sources to get new projects off the ground, these might include providing opportunities for artists to work with archive material.

SH felt that the priority must be to maintain funding for archives from OfCom; this raised the question of whether seeking additional funding for regional archives was realistic. JP felt that if access to regional archives was to be achieved then funding is needed. SB reported that organisations had been nominated to provide access; the government will listen to commercial lobbies, so the BFI has to tread carefully.

LM reported that the Centre will be mapping collections – this is part of the role of the Brighton Junior Research Fellow. The Centre will also follow up on the questions of technology; LMcK reported that the BUFVC hold day schools on issues such as this every couple of months, BFI and NOF people could also be involved.

FG asked for suggestions on how to widen the network and how to build a database of contacts for future events. MLG felt that it would be useful to involve people from other disciplines such as performance, history and archaeology. MO’P added that even within film there are different areas of interest.

It was agreed that a smaller group would meet to focus on the area of experimental film; this group could then report back to the larger group.

FS felt that it was important to involve programmers and think of projects which could get out into the public domain, she cited the recent series of short films on gardens, curated by Peter Todd, at the Lux as highly successful; consider running archive material alongside current films. LMcK and BD are currently doing this.

PK felt that there was a dichotomy of motivations: interest in films as films and interest in the subject; film historians, historians and filmmakers all have different interests, then there is access issue. The same questions occur in other disciplines, such as painting. AR agreed that all these issues have also been argued out in other disciplines; the question of whether the museum is for the artist or the public goes back to the nineteenth century.

LM concluded by thanking everyone for giving up their time to attend. She felt that the day had been valuable in starting to build a framework; once there has been time to reflect on the day the Centre will come up with some suggestions as to how to proceed, possibilities include an interdisciplinary day and an avant-garde day.

FG drew the group’s attention to the study day on Biograph in Brighton on 9th May, the event will be held in the Royal Pavilion and will include screenings of Biograph films.



back to Events