Northern Ireland on Film

Thousands of never before seen clips made available to the public as BFI's new digital film archive goes live

From visits to Belfast by Edward Carson and Winston Churchill to early Stirling Moss racing car footage, as well as Royal visits, our industrial heritage and tourism, Northern Ireland features prominently in Britain on Film, a new National Lottery-funded project that reveals hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from the UK’s key film and TV archives.

The archive has gone digital on BFI Player, giving UK-residents free access to thousands of film and TV titles by location featuring where they live, grew up, went to school, holidayed as a child, or any place of interest in Britain. Ten thousand film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be digitised by 2017 thanks to National Lottery funding and support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The public can get involved with the project via Twitter and Facebook, with a campaign launching today that sees 60 films from all over the UK released over 60 days, and special screenings and events across Northern Ireland.

The project has also uncovered extraordinary footage of ordinary people at work and play in Northern Ireland, including Queen’s University rag days, Lord Mayor’s Shows, July 12 celebrations in Belfast and Benburb, Bangor square dancing, the 1959 World Ploughing Championship in Armoy, and the re-enactment of a Viking invasion in Kilkeel by costumed role-players.

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Britain on Film will unlock the UK’s film and TV history and make it accessible to the public on an unprecedented scale, providing a dazzling mosaic of British life. Those browsing the archive will be able to see vanished landscapes, historic traditions, and fascinating films which were intended as purely private records of family life. The Passmore Family Collection – the world’s earliest known surviving home movies (1902) – features 10 films of the family on holiday in Bognor Regis and The Isle of Wight and at home in Streatham.

Britain on Film is a result of the BFI National Archive and the UK’s nine national and regional screen archives and rights holders joining forces to bring these films together with a major programme of curation and digitisation that started in 2012 and continues until the end of 2017.

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen said: 'Our Digital Film Archive team has worked closely with partners including National Museums Northern Ireland to make accessible for the first time in a long time so much illuminating archive material.

'Thanks to the advances in technology, archive material can now by enjoyed by everyone, and there is no shortage of footage from Northern Ireland spanning politics, sport, industry, tourism, Royal visits, and people at play.'

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Belfast: The Churchill Meeting captures the historic – and infamous – visit of Winston Churchill to Belfast in 1912, an occasion on which he addressed an audience of nationalists in Celtic Park and told them of his support for Home Rule.

Royal Victoria Hospital is early film from 1938 – perhaps the earliest – of this iconic institution, giving us a rare glimpse into the casualty department as it was then, and a young woman receiving a massage to relieve the tensions caused by the workplace.

Britain on Film also unearths footage of ploughing championships in Armoy. A farmer’s son, Lawrence McMillan MBE took part in his first ploughing match in 1942 in Newtownards. Now aged 87, he recalls: 'I started out with a Ferguson tractor and plough. There were hydraulic ploughs, trail ploughing in open classes, high cut classes, wholework classes and Young Farmers classes.'

As part of the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), NI Screen, Film Hub NI & Queens Film Theatre will present Britain on Film screenings of archive film focusing on Belfast’s urban history, as part of Culture Night on September 18. The event last year attracted more than 30,000 people. Curated programmes of short archive films will be shown at the places where they were originally shot or where there is a strong thematic link.

Discover the full archive at