Classics Are Left to Rot in National Film Archive; BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE UNDER FIRE OVER THREAT TO HISTORIC MOVIES AND TV FAVOURITES

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Byline: LUKE LEITCH

THOUSANDS of historic pieces of film in the National Film and Television Archive could be lost forever through decomposition and mould, according to a Government study released today.

The National Audit Office report reveals a huge amount of potentially priceless film stock is at risk.

Britain's official repository of film stock holds prints of more than 50,000 movies, 100,000 factual films and 250,000 television programmes over two sites. Classics including Brief Encounter, Blackmail, The Lodger, Metropolis, Vertigo, High Noon, Seven Samurai, and The Third Man are all there.

However, staff have yet to even examine at least 50,000 items and the backlog is growing. Every year some 3,500 pieces of film are donated to the collection. MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, today said the British Film Institute's stewardship of the collection "is a cause of considerable concern".

He added: "Less than half the collection is readily available for viewing.

Large backlogs of cataloguing and preservation work mean that culturally valuable films - especially in the oldest storage vaults where there is evidence that films are mouldy and decomposing - may be lost forever."

The report reveals that some 110 million feet of nitrate film, particularly prone to decay and highly flammable, has not been copied and is potentially irreplaceable. Some 848 master copies of films are known to be degrading. The BFI's oldest storage facility, which lacks humidity and temperature control, holds 120,000 cans of nitrate film. …