British Council Film Collection

Project Description

Our flagship project, the British Council Film Collection is a fascinating collection of ~120 short cultural propaganda films from the 1940s.

When TIME/IMAGE first encountered this collection, it was simply as a list of titles and dates. Over 18 months we worked to research, catalogue, digitise, and provide content around this remarkable film archive. In May 2012 the majority of the Collection became available for the public to watch and download for free, receiving overwhelming national press and reaching a vast audience. It was completed in May 2014 to renewed praise, accompanied by an exhibition and competition—View From Here.

To find out more about the Collection and the archive materials behind it click here, or visit the British Council Film Collection website to watch the films.

Our work on this collection has been extensive. Please explore the following headings to learn more:

Our initial resource for this project was ten digitised films and list of notional titles and release dates that proved to largely incorrect. Fortunately, a large quantity of original production notes were preserved at The National Archives, a full set of distribution booklets remained intact, and the majority of the films were preserved at the British Film Institute (BFI). Through these resources and weeks of research we were able to piece together the story of this collection and produce an accurate list of titles . Our research was fed into a publicly-accessible wiki-style database and now forms the core source of data pertaining to this uniquely forgotten collection. We were also able to locate two ‘missing’ titles that were not held by the BFI, one of which was later repatriated from New Zealand.
TIME/IMAGE led much of the development of this archive, essentially being given free rein for the first twelve months of the project. Approaching this collection with minimal resources and information we developed the project from scratch, considering the possible long-term goals and potential users, and endeavouring to maximise accessibility. The notion of an open archive of this calibre was unusual at the time, so we adopted an experimental, flexible mindset to reach our goal.
The digitised films comprise most of the Collection’s content, but we aspired to provide context and entry points for exploration, too. As such, we drew on our research to produce a large quantity of linked trivia, accompanying essays/blogs, events, trailers, and more.
TIME/IMAGE managed the complicated digitisation of this project, liaising between the British Council, the BFI, the digitiser, and Google (who funded the digitisation). We also encoded, watermarked, and uploaded all content to the Vimeo, which was selected as our principle hosting platform to maximise archive accessibility. We additionally created trailers, lead cards, and sundry audio-visual materials to complement the film collection. The publicity for this collection has been a roaring success. TIME/IMAGE played a central role in this by identifying key narratives and press points, contributing to press materials, driving online coverage, and representing the Collection on both local and national radio. We organised a number of events to promote and disseminate the films including a pop-up ‘shop’ and a free screening at the 25th Leeds International Film Festival. We have also produced promotional materials such as postcards, flyers, and posters.