Article Archive

BFI: British Films Ignored

Just when it looked as though the BFI were finally taking an interest in British cinema history - even going so far as to release some British films on video and DVD - they go and reorganise the NFT programme and forget to find a place for British cinema.

Even before this change British films were usually relegated to a section called The Archive Presents ... This meant that most months some figure or theme would be chosen and once a week they'd show a film to fit in with this. This was tokenism, but at least they'd show four films that probably wouldn't be screened anywhere else.

Previous seasons have included Miles Mander, the post-war spiv cycle, George King, Arthur Askey and Greta Gynt.  Occasionally The Archive Presents ... would deviate and theme something different such as Images from Africa, but even that found room for Will Hay's Old Bones of the River.

This is now a thing of the past. So in September we get the first part of a long Cary Grant season and the second part of a Werner Herzog season. There is some room for British cinema in little corners of the September's programme: Repulsion, The Red Shoes, Flash Gordon, Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD and the one minute-long 1899 version of King John. With approximately 60 feature films shown that month the percentage of British features is about 6%.

October brings us Brief Encounter, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and Bugsy Malone. Even the second part of Cary Grant's season manages to exclude his only British films: Indiscrete and The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss. With 75 features that makes 4%.

They still have space to show British television. I suppose we should be grateful for this. Or maybe we should just thank a quirk of the copyright laws which stops the NFT charging for admission if they show US television programmes. Otherwise it would probably be wall-to-wall ER.

I'm not saying British cinema should be shown to the exclusion of the rest of the world, but surely some room can be found where we can explore the nooks and crannies of our indigenous industry. We shouldn't rely on a handful of established classics and a bunch of children's films.

Stop press: January's programme reinstates The Archive Presents with four films devoted "Wicked Women in Film Noir".