Monday, 23 May 2011

Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire

The completed Colonial Film catalogue brings together films from three collections - the British Film Institute (BFI), the Imperial War Museum (IWM), and the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (BECM). The catalogue uses various tools to enhance the apparatus for researchers consulting these collections. Most important of these are two extra fields of context and analysis, which position and examine a selection of the films in relation to the history of the British Empire. There are approximately seventy-five countries within the Empire represented within this collection.

The BFI collection contains approximately 1,200 films relating to Colonial Africa. There are over 1,100 titles covering India, South East Asia and the Middle East, with approximately 500 of these titles relating to India. The earliest titles within this collection include 70 from the turn of the century concerning the Boer War, as well as footage from India – for example Panorama of Calcutta – from 1899. There are films from local production units - for example, the Malayan Film Unit, the Jamaican Film Unit, and the Gold Coast Film Unit – and from established British producers, such as the Colonial Film Unit, and British Instructional Film - which produced the Empire Series between 1925 and 1928. These films were exhibited and distributed in a variety of contexts. There are instructional films made for African audiences – for example, Anti-Plague Operations in Lagos (1937) and the three BEKE films made in the 1930s; films intended for prospective British immigrants – for example Southern Rhodesia: is this Your Country? (1948); sponsored films for British schools - for example From Cane to Cube (1950); fundraising films for missionary work – for example Salvation Army Work in India, Burma and Ceylon (1925); films for children’s cinema clubs – for example Basuto Boy (1947) and Trek to Mashomba (1950) as well a large number intended for cinemas and non-theatrical sites at home and abroad. The collection includes documentary films, amateur footage, newsreels, actualities, travelogues, and missionary films, as well as over 200 fiction films.
The Imperial War Museum collection contains footage relating to pivotal moments in colonial history; for example the Malayan Emergency - Proudly presenting Yong Peng (1955); Voices of Malaya (1948); The Knife (1955); the British mandate in Palestine - Jewish Colonies in Palestine (1917); Allenby meets Weizmann (1918); Palestine Police (1946); and most notably the experiences of colonial troops in two World Wars. This footage includes extensive material filmed by Army and RAF photographic units during the Second World War, particularly in India, Burma and the Far East, much of which is still to be catalogued. The collection also includes newsreels from the War – most notably 138 editions of Indian News Parade, which ran weekly from 1943 to 1946 – as well as fiction titles, documentaries and unique amateur collections.

The British Empire and Commonwealth’s Film Archive contains approximately 1,700 films dating from the 1920s onwards which were shot mainly by British people living and working within the Empire. In addition, the archive contains government produced information and travel films, commercial documentary and news films, and television material.

Other similar projects include the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, online archive, and Images of Empire 

Annamaria Motrescu, Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge.

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