Fiction and non-fiction film

The shape of our collection is always changing. We are regularly offered new releases as well as older titles as donations. To stay in line with the BFI’s overall collection policy we’ve created a structured acquisitions process. It involves two stages: selection and acquisition/cataloguing.

We outline the archive’s selection criteria in our collecting policy but in general, our priority is British film. In some areas such as feature films, we aim to be as comprehensive as possible, but most areas involve selection. The format of the material on offer is critical. Certain formats, such as DVD or VHS, have a short shelf life and copies on these formats are held by the archive mainly for research purposes. Film, digital videotape and hard drives are more suitable as preservation formats. Film can last for many years under the correct storage conditions and digital videotape can be migrated with a lower risk of format obsolescence or physical damage.

After selection, we formally acquire the item offered. This involves entering technical and filmographic data into our databases. Information that is gathered at the acquisition stage may be accessed many years hence – beyond a time when users will recognise details (e.g. titles, actors, filmmakers) that may be household names now. Many films can be identified by their title alone, but a significant number (such as Shakespeare adaptations) have common titles. Without dates and other relevant information, these productions, or the individual episodes of a soap opera, would be impossible to identify.

Once we’ve logged the key filmographic and technical information, we clearly mark the physical material with a unique identity number and give it a location. We enter the technical records into our collections management system, and add extended filmographic records (including cast, crew and synopsis) to our BID database. Once we’ve formally acquired the material we can move it to appropriate storage.


Under the terms of the 1990 Broadcasting Act (renewed and extended in the 2003 Communications Act) the BFI National Archive is the official National Television Archive, as designated by Ofcom. The Archive is funded by broadcasters to select material from the current output of ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five, recording off-air to broadcast (currently digibeta) and viewing (DVD) standard for preservation and access. The copies we acquire are exactly as they were seen by the public. We currently select about 12.5% of output, including main daily news bulletins, major fictional and factual programmes and a representative selection of everything else. We record this as regular complete days of output, with all commercials, promotions and so on. Complete initial digital capture has allowed us to be more selective in recent years.

We also have an agreement with the BBC, which has an obligation to preserve its own output, to provide access to all BBC programming, and we record viewing standard copies of all BBC channels. Broadcasters are also keen to offer us specific material, especially on obsolete video formats, from which we make selective acquisitions. Our long-running campaign, Missing Believed Wiped attempts to locate and recover programming ‘lost’ from the official archive collections, with irregular, but often spectacular success.