Preview: BFI Film on Film

This morning I attended the launch event for this festival, which takes place from 8-11 June at the BFI Southbank.

Since cinemas moved to digital screening around twenty years ago, it has become harder to see films from their original film prints, as originally shot and intended. Only fifty UK cinemas can now show film on film.

Just as with the vinyl resurgence, it is those under the age of 30 who are most drawn to seeing material on film and nitrate; as Robin Baker put it in his talk, it is a “more emotional” experience to engage with material as original audiences would have seen it.

Indeed, seeing films not intended for digital projection can often highlight imperfections like wig-lines we were never meant to see – a problem I have certainly noticed in archive TV shows upscaled to HD.

Film on Film brings together more than 200,000 feet of film in a variety of formats across the festival’s run. Casting an eye across material in the BFI’s archives, the festival is a celebration of film and the stories it tells.

Four classics projected on nitrate, a 3-D day, a season of rarities and rediscoveries, and showcases for material on 35mm, 16mm, 9.5mm and Super8 sit alongside free workshops and talks.

From major Hollywood productions to neglected titles from around the world, Film on Film celebrates the art of both filmmakers and projectionists – those who create the art and then use their skill to bring it to the public.

Whether your interest is in pre-Code titles from the 30s, the glories of Technicolor, or even the films shown in the Telekinema that preceded the NFT, you will find it here.

Some films showing in the BFI Film on Film

Children’s TV, post-war work from key documentarists, and even a programme representative of a typical film society are included alongside two special screenings to begin and end the festival – 1940’s Mildred Pierce, with Joan Crawford, and 1975’s classic horror, Jaws.

As nitrate is deeply flammable, safety is paramount and for these screenings – the first in ten years from the format – special precautions need to be taken. As for original prints, some will receive their final screening in that form before being preserved in the archive.

The BFI’s ten-year strategy, Screen Culture 2023, sets out how the organisation will advance its knowledge, collections, and programmes.

With even film prints as recent as Morvern Callar from 2002 proving tricky to locate and preserve, it is not just a historical endeavour.

See more details of the festival here.

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