Our collection of more than 20,000 silent films is the largest collection of early British film in the world and also includes a large number of films from Europe and the US made in cinema’s formative years.
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 follow 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.