ICO Archive Screening Days Review


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A review by Bill Lawrence


Having been a part of the ICO’s first Archive Screening Day in December 2014, I was delighted to see that the format had been brought back. Cinema does behave like the most contemporary of artistic forms with titles released rapidly reaching their sell-by date and disappearing from cinemas. It is a culture constantly heading forward with little heed for its past. Unlike other arts that regularly celebrate the works of artists, composers, playwrights and writers from past decades and centuries, film is persistently looking for the new. Even as the youngest of these arts it still has over 100 years of incredible activity to look back on and celebrate, so the pairing of the ICO Archive Screening Day and Bristol Watershed’s Cinema Rediscovered (see separate article) are, in themselves, to be celebrated and supported.




The day started with a keynote talk from Robin Baker Head Curator, BFI National Archive looking at the activity of restoration and releases from the Archive. With a little gem from the early 1970s Heinz campaign for baked beans it demonstrated how long anti-EEC/EU has seeped into popular culture. This demonstrated the diversity of the archive and Robin outlined the range through films, TV programmes, scripts, notes and designs.

The archive has to balance the needs of preservation and access against limited funds. Some of the recent BFI archive projects were outlined: Visions of Change, Evolution of TV Documentary; Battles of Coronel and Falklands; The Hitchcock 9. Also some of the extraordinary locations for such events, including Blackmail with the audiences seated on Kiev’s famous Odessa steps.

Unlocking film heritage had been able to use lottery funds for Britain on Film, Victorians in cinema and Film and TV advertising. Future projects include: Black Star; India on Film for the 70th year of independence 2017; and Railways on Film.

He argued that ‘silent’ cinema and such special events can create a greater wonder and sense of the glamour of cinema and it

He left the audience with a couple of questions what should we digitise next? and what role should 35mm play in cinemas in the future – should there be 35mm projection throughout UK; the joy of film is 35mm an attraction c.f. vinyl. How do we bring real film back to the cinema?

Robin complemented his talk with a screening of a short film shot by Jack Cardiff in early Technicolor of the ruins of Palmyra

Finally Robin encouraged us all to contribute to the BFI Consultation on its next strategic plan which closes 8 September.


The Proud Valley


It was good to see this restored 1940 classic. Introduced by Graham Fulton from Park Circus, gave the opportunity to outline some of the classics they are about to release: from the Universal Dracula to Taxi Driver.

The Proud Valley opens in the Welsh Valleys with a black stoker hoping onto a steam train. A summation of many of the days themes. Beautiful black and white photography, looked great on screen and sparkled. The life of Welsh miners in a small village and the community that relies on the pit for its survival. With the wonderful Paul Robeson at its core it is always watchable, even if the acting of some is less than adequate, but what grips is the life underground, wonderful sets create a strong sense of place and drama with one moment of shock. An enjoyable classic that still has much to say about communities and sacrifice.


Cinema Ritrovato


Guy Borlee returned after his visit in 2014, to talk about the Il Cinema Ritrovato now in its 30th year of celebrating the history of cinema from classics to screenings from carbon-rod projection. A major international success the festival is highly regarded by those regular attenders from all over the world.

Guy introduced screenings of some of their recent restoration short films made for film pioneer Charles Urban, in the two colour system Kinemacolor, a short film about bonnets in the Netherlands and then the short feature Rhapsodia Satanica, a reworking of the faust tale with an elderly woman trading her soul for the return of youth. Using a wide range of early colouring techniques, it was a continually evolving visual treat with a tremendously ugly devil.


Black Britain


An interesting collection of material held in the Media Archive for Central England from regional news programmes on ATV and Central Television. Ultimately, a study of how the media in Birmingham reacted to ‘immigrant’ communities in clips from television broadcasts 1960 – 1987. Some of the excerpts display the classic colonialist attitudes of broadcasters of the time which can make for discomforting viewing although they do of course, very much reflect the realities of the context in which they were made.  The final programme when released by the ICO next year however, will be contextualised both on screen and with programme notes and speakers will be available to introduce screenings. It will be interesting to receive more background particularly in relation to the one Asian and one black presenter who were featured.


Losing Ground


The final film of the day was my highlight and contextualised with an excellent introduction from Karen Alexander. Directed by Kathleen Collins in 1982, who sadly died 6 years later, Losing Ground is a film with two compelling leads Seret Scott and Bill Gunn, the former and academic the latter, her partner, a free-wheeling artist. There are many great sequences and some wonderful dialogue but the path of Sarah from intense academic to movie actress is wonderful. Collins was clearly a great talent that would have left a fascinating body of work if she hadn’t died so young.

I hope there are many more Archive Screening Days to come. In many ways more rewarding than the ICO’s quarterly screening days of new features, because of the opportunity to see film from the history of cinema and see the evolution of the art from silent to independent 1980s filmmaking. Leaves a lot to consider and the certainly convinces that there is more to cinema than the latest release.



Posted in Events by / August 12th, 2016 / No Comments »

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