Academic journal article Framework

A Historical Overview of NFTVA/BFI Collection Development Policies with Regard to Gender and Nation Questions

Academic journal article Framework

A Historical Overview of NFTVA/BFI Collection Development Policies with Regard to Gender and Nation Questions

Article excerpt

I should state at the outset that, largely because of the far-sightedness of Ernest Lindgren, Curator of the National Film Library/National Film Archive from 1935 to 1973, the NFTVA/BFI policies on acquisition have changed very little since the 1930s. Thus it may seem that I am presenting quite a lot about very little!

I focus on the BFI National Archive's moving image collection, though of course the Book Library and the Stills Posters and Designs department were both originally part of the Archive and had the same basic aims: to represent and reflect moving image culture in Britain.

In 1929, a Commission on Educational & Cultural Films was set up at a conference organized by the British Institute for Adult Education. The commission's remit was to report on, among other things, the establishment of a body to achieve the aims of an earlier report on the use of films in education and the development of public appreciation of films. The commission's report, The Film in National Life,1 which appeared in June 1932, recommended setting up a film institute "to promote the various uses of film as a contribution to national well-being." The British Film Institute (BFI) was thus established in 1933, and its original "Articles and Memoranda of Association" required it to set up and maintain "a national repository of films of permanent value."

The National Film Library (NFL, called the National Film Archive [NFA] from 1955, the National Film and Television Archive [NFTVA] from 1993, and now referred to as the BFI National Archive) was therefore constituted in May 1935, and Ernest Lindgren, who had been the Institute's Education Officer for about a year before that, became its first Curator.

The BFI National Archive is the oldest surviving "generalist" archive to have been set up with public funds. Britain's Imperial War Museum was established in 1920, but is, of course, a specialist collection. The Danes had a royal collection from 1913, while the forerunner of today's Swedish Film Archive began as a personal collection. The collection of the Reichsfilmarchiv, established in 1934, was broken up after the Second World War. The Museum of Modern Art's Department of Film postdates the NFL by a month and receives money from private individuals and foundations. The Mario Ferrari Collection, which later became the Cineteca Italiana, was set up in Milan in 1935, while Henri Langlois's private collection (initially stored in his mother's house) was incorporated as the Cinémathèque Française in 1936.

Ernest Lindgren's view of archiving was very different from that of the directors of some of these other organizations. He believed in the primacy of preservation and long-term survival rather than in collecting films simply in order to screen them. In the beginning, NFL policy was to acquire everything available. The British Film Institute Film Library Committee's "Final Report" (section 3, 5-9)2 outlined a detailed set of proposals for selection of material for the national collection, including "as an example of development in film technique," "as an example of a new, or a particular, scientific process, e.g., Dufay colour, or Technicolor," "as an example of a particular kind of film," "as a characteristic example of national production," and so on. It also suggested that films should be preserved for their subject matter, as "a record of social customs, dress, anthropology, religious ceremony, architecture, furniture." Nonetheless, the report recommended that some system of statutory deposit should be implemented: "It is essential to the success of a National Film Library . . . that a copy of every film shall be at the disposal of the Library." A few paragraphs later, the report stated firmly,

It is clear that the ideal scheme for a national repository is to store all films produced. Any kind of selective system must be unsatisfactory, for the historical value of contemporary events and things is notoriously difficult to assess. …

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