February 22, 2007 7:58 AM PST
Britain throws open rare film archive
The Mediatheque at BFI Southbank--due to open next month--will give visitors free access to more than 300 films and TV shows from the BFI National Archive, spanning more than 100 years of moving images.
Hewlett-Packard is providing the technology behind the Mediatheque--17 HP work stations--as part of a two-year partnership with the BFI.
Film director and BFI Chairman Anthony Minghella said: "They are giving us some hardware and some cash, and access to their expertise in digital technology and management."
Minghella said looking after the giant collection is a real challenge--some film has to be kept in freezers because it is so flammable.
He said: "The strategy has been to duplicate and digitize important material, and that's working but it's very costly."
Preserving movies is a process fraught with difficulty. For instance, Minghella said, because nitrate film is flammable, the BFI decided to copy those films onto acetate--but now acetate has turned out to be just as fragile. And choosing any storage medium that might quickly become out of date can be a risk.
"Imagine if our collection was on floppy disk drives or videos," added Minghella.
The BFI hopes to add another 30 digitized titles per month, and there are plans for other centers around the country to access regional film archives.
Steve Ranger of Silicon.com reported from London.