Event review: BFI’s Film on Film

The inaugural Film on Film festival at the BFI Southbank ran from 8-11 Jun, bookended by screenings of the classic films Mildred Pierce (1945) and Jaws (1975).

Projecting films on celluloid is becoming a dying art, as most cinemas have moved to digital projection and few now have the facility to show original prints. As for projections from nitrate, the safety factor alone means it is extremely rare to see titles in this way.

Film on Film celebrated all film formats, including 3-D, 9.5mm, 16mm, and Super-8. As well as the opportunity to see how a projector works behind the scenes and to reflect on, as one talk had it, the journey “from vault to screen.”

The BFI has restored 100 films into new 35mm prints as part of a special project “Keep Film on Film“, with titles showing in Film on Film as diverse as No Way Out, Rebel Without A Cause, Malcolm X and Morvern Callar.

Film on Film logo

As the head curator of the BFI National Archive, Robin Baker, put it in the festival brochure introduction, “we can’t wait to share the whizz, the flicker, and the magic with you” and that they did.

With so much going on across three days (and an opening gala evening), it was impossible to see everything. I chose to catch the screening of Rebel, a firm old favourite of mine brought into new life with restored sound and colour, and to see the 1958 UK print of The House of the Angel, from Argentina.

There were multiple showings of Morgan Fisher’s short, Screening Room, on a newly created 16mm print. As it can only be screened in NFT2, it is a perfect example of a site-specific film.

The festival also said goodbye to the original prints of Straight 8 Originals on 8mm, with their last projection before their inclusion in the BFI National Archive. And to bring us into the current age, The Dark Knight Trilogy screened at Waterloo’s IMAX.

In Discoveries and Rarities, fifteen titles were showcased as cinema audiences would have seen them on release. It is indisputable that seeing a film in its original form is far preferable than viewing it on home media or via streaming.

Filling out the programme were a set of talks and workshops adding context and flavour to the curated programme of screenings. Technical demonstrations, free discussions, and more added a new layer of understanding and interest.

Film on Film has proved to be a triumph this year, with a buzzing atmosphere and a lively audience clearly proving an interest outside of digital projection. I hope it becomes a regular fixture at the BFI.

For me, I fell in love again with watching a big screen in the dark. You can access as many films as you like on disc or online, but it’s just not the same.