In 2011 I spent a day at the British Film Institute’s film archive facility in Berkhamsted documenting what goes on there for there website. The facility at Berkhamsted used to store the BFI’s film archive as well as film memorabilia and props, some of which dates back to the birth of cinema. Since Shooting these images the main archive has been moved to a new state of the art facility that’s housed in a refurbished bunker that was used to store nuclear weapons.
Original Night Mail reel from 1936. This is a nitrate film which means it can self combust if it gets too hot and burns like there is no tomorrow. Dangerous stuff!
Before films are sent out for screenings, each one is checked by hand to see if it has any kinks or rips.
Developing black and white 35mm film
Loading the film into the developer
One of Alfred Hitchcock's first films being restored. Different reels of the same film are compared so that the most complete version of the film can be restored. Each frame is check by hand. The lady working on this project had been working on this project for two years.
Comparing film reels. I was very careful not to drop my camera for this one!
The BFI tries not to turn down any donation of film reels. Even if it's old home movies, there might be some historical importance. This keeps people very busy cataloging everything that comes in.
Main film storage where most of the BFI's film stock was stored before it was moved to its new facility. It was pretty chilly in there, as cold as your fridge at home.
Endless high shelves of film
As well as film the BFI has an archive of broadcast TV. You can pull a few hours of TV off the shelves which will even include the adverts.
VHS, Betamax, Digibeta, U-matic? Because the BFI archives every tape format imaginable, they also keep a complete range of obsolete players to play these formats back.
State of the art film scanner. This machine will scan film at 6k - that's 6144 pixels by 3160 pixels. An HD TV is 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels. The BFI thinks to preserve film in all it's glory you need a 8k scan. When I visited there was not such thing as an 8k scanner, so the best way to archive a film for all time is to put it onto film.
There were corridors of drawers full of original films posters. This one is from Peter Cushing's Horror of Dracula from 1958.
The BFI also has a large collection of film memorabilia.
The BFI's memorabilia also includes production photos, animation drawings and cells as well as props.