As the British Film Institute (BFI) gets ready to unveil its revamped Southbank home next month, the institute has announced a new partnership with Hewlett-Packard (HP). HP will use its digital technology to offer the BFI National Archive materials to the public.
The pact was announced this morning by BFI chairman Anthony Minghella and Steve Gill, VP and managing director of HP UK & Ireland.
HP will present and manage the BFI's large collection of film and TV materials. The new Mediatheque at the BFI Southbank in London will let viewers personally select from hundreds and eventually thousands of films and TV programmes. Planned seasons include Essentially British, which will include the 1899 film A Kiss In The Tunnel and contemporary Little Britain episodes, and London Calling, with the 1956 work Sunshine In Soho to The Long Good Friday.
The Mediatheque will be a free service, allowing a large and diverse range of people to have access to the catalogue, which also includes previously unseen footage. Anthony Minghella explained: 'The Mediatheque is self determined, it's like a jukebox. You select what you want to watch, for as long as you want, and as often as you want. You can make a bespoke programme that fits your interests. It's a movement away from the cultural hegemony, into film democracy, when everyone has the right to access their moving image heritage.'
The BFI and HP collaboration could expand to all regions of the UK, providing specific material tailored to the history and culture of its location. Minghella added: 'My first experience of the BFI was regional, not in London. I want the BFI to be a big presence away from London. My vision is that we have perhaps 100 mediatheques. The BFI Southbank is an experiment to see what the appetite will be, and what support we can find.'
Although converting the archive material to digital format is a time consuming and costly task, it is a safer and more manageable alternative to the current warehouse storage of film reels vulnerable to deterioration and fire. Rather than just preserve this collection, Minghella stressed the importance of access. 'We don't want our treasure to be secret, we want it to be a public treasure,' he said. 'And we want people to interact with it. The BFI will provide an amplified experience. You can go and see The Queen at the cinema, and then you might come to the Mediatheque and watch the real Queen's Coronation, then watch the Oscars and Helen Mirren, and then watch one of Stephen Frears' earlier works.'