The BFI yesterday announced plans to allow public access to its archive of 275,000 films, television programmes, documentaries and newsreels dating from 1895 via a group of 25 regional screening centres.
The Imagination Network is part of a BFI drive to improve its image and offer a less London-centred service. "We have this wonderful resource but we have been a little aloof from our public and rather under-appreciated as a result," Wilf Stevenson, director of the BFI, said.
The institute has applied for pounds 20m to fund the Imagination Network, a partnership project between BT, IBM UK and Microvitec, a British multimedia company. The BFI will connect 25 regional universities, film theatres and arts centres to its main archive in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, over a fibre optic broad band network.
The public will pay pounds 5 to pounds 10 an hour to browse the BFI archive or choose to see a particular film at cinema prices. At first, the BFI will offer 2,000 British films and television programmes which will have to be digitised for the purpose.
"Eventually we will digitise our whole collection," Jane Clarke, assistant director, said.
The BFI has also asked the National Heritage Fund for pounds 40m to digitise its archives and pounds 10m to expand the Museum of the Moving Image (Momi). It also hopes for pounds 10m from the Arts Council to build London's first Imax large-screen cinema.
The idea is that Momi will be updated with material from the past 15 years when the institute clinches a West End site for the National Film Theatre, now at the South Bank. This is intended to open in a year. Discussions are continuing for the use of the Rialto cinema in Piccadilly, central London.
The BFI said the new planswould affect 140 of its 520 staff. But many could be redeployed.Reuse content