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British Film: Institute Expands for Millennium
by Peter Doncaster
Special Correspondent

The British Film Institute (BFI) plans to inaugurate a new film centre in London's West End by 1997 (model shown right), extend the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) at Waterloo and open London's first 800-seat IMAX cinema in an adjacent circular underpass.

Under the title BFI 2000 and celebrating the 100th anniversary of cinema, the plan also includes the setting up of an Imagination Network offering computerised digital information regarding BFI's massive movie archive. It will begin with the digitalisation of 2000 films, 1000 television programmes and will continue to grow as the new technology is applied to the Institute's stock. The Library, which holds the world's largest collection of documentation on film and television, has already been catalogued and indexed on a quick-find filmographic database.

Initially it will be used by 25 UK regional cinemas as well as universities, schools, media and arts centres. A web site on the Internet will also provide on-line information of the 63-year-old Institute's vast collection of 275,000 films, letters, posters, scripts, movie memorabilia, seven million black and white stills and 700,000 colour transparencies relating to 90,000 films and television programmes.

Finest Archive
BFI's Director Wilf Stevenson explained: "We are going to re-image ourselves . BFI 2000 costing 82 million will revitalise the whole country's cinema habits and provide a 'one-stop shop' to our archive which is recognised as the finest in the world.

"We have formed partnerships with BT, IBM and Microvitec, a multimedia specialist. Besides providing us with the new technologies to take us into the millennium, they will help us to market our archive and library services commercially worldwide."

He added: "Our major commitment to film making, the restoration and preservation of decaying nitrate and acetate film will continue. And of course our work in the education field will be increased now that we have successfully persuaded the Government to include media studies as part of National Curriculum. But essentially we plan to engage more than ever before with audiences and make our expertise more readily accessible".

Lottery Funding
With an annual income totalling nearly 30 million from English Heritage and the Arts Council pledged until the year 2000, the Institute has applied for funding from the National Lottery and the Millennium Commission for its BFI 2000 project.

Three sites in the West End are already being considered to re-locate the National Film Theatre (NFT) which at present is ingeniously tucked beneath arches of Waterloo Bridge on the south bank of the Thames. Mr Stevenson favours the Edwardian Rialto cinema (shown right) above the fashionable Cafe de Paris nightclub. Both the cinema and the nightspot, where famed artistes such as Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward performed, have been closed for some considerable time.

"We will re-open in the West End on 1 April 1997," said Mr Stevenson. "The new national centre will be a showcase for British cinema and the BFI's historic collections of films.

"By vacating Waterloo's South Bank we will be able to expand MOMI considerably. The museum, which is a great favourite with schoolchildren, will be enlarged to occupy the space of the three cinema complex where films will continue to be shown until our new premises our ready. There will be no interruption to the NFT's programmes. In the nearby Waterloo underpass we plan a new impressive IMAX cinema, the second in the country, providing the giant-screen experience. It will also be the London location for the Imagination Network."

Multimedia Server
The Network, the interactive heart of the BFI 2000 operation, is being made possible by using ET's broadband fibre-optic cabling system which provides instantaneous communication to a central multimedia server a database gateway to all Institute's information services. By digitalising the library and eventually its archive, the BFI plans to make the UK's social and political history as captured on film, documentaries and newsreel since 1885, far more accessible to a much wider audience.

Of necessity, the BFI will also be much more commercial. A newly-established Film Availability Service will be the single focal point for all inquiries about films, video, publishing, licensing, maintaining and acquiring prints, posters, television and related merchandise.

Telephone Enquiries
In 1995 the NFT's film programmes attracted nearly 224,000 cinema goers as well as over 90,000 to the London Film Festival. MOMI had more than 393,000 visitors. The BFI's Library and Information Service dealt with 27,707 telephone inquiries and was host to 15,368 researchers at its reading room.

"There is a real need for standards of literacy in the media to be raised," declared Mr Stevenson. "The generation of knowledge and information about film and television past and present that will sustain and support audiences is at the core of all BFI's activities. That is why we have launched BFI 2000.

"It is vital to our nation's cultural and economic future that film, the greatest art form of the 20th century and television and the most powerful source of information and entertainment of all time are widely understood and fully appreciated."

For more information contact:
British Film Institute
21 Stephen Street, London, United Kingdom W1P 2LN
Tel: +44 171 957 8920 | Fax: +44 171 436 0439.      Copyright ©1999, LLC