British Film Institute makes its archive available online

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The Independent Culture

The first forays into film by directors including Tony and Ridley Scott and Stephen Frears are to be made available for download, as the British Film Institute puts its massive archive online.

For a charge of a few pounds, works that are rarely seen as well as more famous movie releases such as Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract will be made accessible to fans.

There are 230,000 films, short films and documentaries in the National Film and Television Archive which the BFI administers, in addition to 675,000 television programmes.

But only 35 items are available in the first tranche of downloads. In addition to the shorts by Frears and the Scotts, these include Burning an Illusion, which was the second British film with a black director, and silent movie classics such as Charlie Chaplin's The Pawnshop.

The BFI admitted it currently does not have the funding to be able to transfer the entire archive from film to the digital format required for online access at www.bfi.org.uk. So only a few works will be added to the site each month.

Amanda Nevill, the BFI's director, said: "We are well on the way to meeting the challenge of opening up this extraordinary resource even more and working to exploit the enormous potential offered by new technologies. Film and television are a social record, a historical resource, a chance to travel through time and to share the dreams and aspirations of artists, directors and writers."

Shaun Woodward, the Film minister, said: "Vintage and rarely seen films are no longer the preserve of the arthouse cinema-goer. The BFI's archives have been revolutionised so that, for the first time, anyone with a broadband connection can download films from the collection."

The BFI began collecting information in 1933 but this vast resource was previously available only to institute staff and users of its library in central London.

Other initiatives announced included online introductions to aspects of the film industry. Malcolm McDowell presents a guide to the Free Cinema documentary movement of the 1950s; Jonathan Ross offers a guide on Ealing Studios; while Paul Merton gives an introduction to silent movies.And when the BFI opens its centre on the South Bank next year, a "mediatheque" centre will enable many more hours of film and television to be viewed by visitors.

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