Silent film

Our collection of more than 20,000 silent films is one of the most extensive archives of early cinema in the world. As well as actively collecting all British film from this era, we hold a wide range of early film from Europe and the USA.

These fiction and non-fiction films cover the period 1895-1929, from the very first films which last less than a minute to the sophisticated full length feature dramas of the late 1920s. It spans the full spectrum of film production – actualities, newsreels, comedies, drama, documentary and drama documentary, home movies, animation, travelogues, industrial films and advertising.

These rare films and fragments document real people and events as well as dramatic performance and early experiments with sound, colour processes and developments in filmmaking styles. These are the roots of cinema we know today.

While we’re hard at work preserving and restoring the collection, we also make time to share what we’re doing. Recently Cecil Hepworth’s Alice in Wonderland (1903) had over a million viewers on YouTube, and we screened Miles Mander’s The First Born (1928) with a live orchestra at the London Film Festival in 2011.

The vast majority of our silent films are preserved only at the BFI. Film prints and increasingly digital materials are available to film festivals, cinemas, TV companies, educators and researchers.

We’ll be releasing more of this collection digitally, through DVD and Blu-ray publishing and in cinemas all over the UK.

Read more

  • Archive projects

    Archive projects

    We bring the vast collections of the BFI National Archive to a wider audience through our cultural projects.

Read more

Back to the top