Newcastle gets Mediatheque as British Film Institute National Archive heads to North-East

By Laura Burgess | 19 July 2010
Black and white photo of the construction of the Tyne Bridge in 1925.

(Above) The new Tyne Bridge, which was completed in February 1925

From The Clangers to Brief Encounter and Monty Python, the British Film Institute is bringing a vast collection of more than 1,800 films and television shows to Newcastle.

Coinciding with the BFI's 75th Anniversary, the city's Discovery Museum will become the latest building to host a Mediatheque library of moving images, following others in Derby, Cambridge, Wrexham and London.

Essentially a free cinema, the Mediatheque opens up an amazing collection of archive footage, classic feature films and cult television shows from the 1960s and 1970s. The range of themes is disparate, taking in everything from British fashion to the depiction of race and ethnicity on the screen.

Black and white photo of a man playing a tuba.

Durham's Miner Gala Day

"The whole point of the Mediatheque is to try and open people's eyes to things that are not easily accessible," says Alex Davidson, one of the curators behind the franchise.

"Ninety per cent of the material is not available anywhere else – neither on DVD nor original broadcast."

Alex describes the Mediatheque as a digital jukebox where visitors can take a free ticket, sit down at a viewing station with a computer and headphones and access the films.

A photo still of Audrey Hepburn during a screen test.

A still from an Audrey Hepburn screen test (1952)

The BFI Archive shows the importance of our country's history, allowing visitors to see how life was lived more than 100 years ago.

"We have the Mitchell and Kenyon film collection, which gives us a huge insight into Edwardian Britain," says Alex. "The two early cinema pioneers were employed by travelling fairground operators to film the streets and to show the footage at cinemas across the country."

To celebrate the installation, the BFI has teamed up with the Northern Region Film and Television Archive to create a unique set of films, North by North East. These examine the representation of the region.

Visitor stood next to computer screen in one of the Mediatheques

Mediatheques allow visitors to sit in their own viewing stations

"The earliest film we have, Town Moor Fair Scenes from 1898, shows the Newcastle fair from over 100 years ago," explains Davidson. "The Mitchell and Kenyon footage from around the areas include the Durham Miners’ Gala and early football matches, including Sunderland versus Middlesbrough."

One collection, the Kids are Alright, offers British television for children from the 1950s up until the present day. TV shows such as Crack-a-Jack and Muffin the Mule are popular with youngsters as well as nostalgic adults.

"Another quirky video shows Audrey Hepburn in a screen test before she became famous," says Davidson. "It is 1950s colour footage of rushes from a film that was never made – you would not be able to this see anywhere else."

There are also plans to mark the occasion of 75 years of the Archive with a programme called Long Live Film: Celebrating 75 years of the BFI National Archive. For this, they'll be tracking down 75 "missing" films – including Alfred Hitchcock's silent Mountain Eagle, which Davidson calls "the holy grail of lost British films" – and adding more silent films.

Images: bfi.org.uk

BFI Mediatheque at Discovery Museum, Newcastle opens on Wednesday July 21 2010. See bfi.org.uk/mediatheque for more information.

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