The BFI Player is a tantalising glimpse of the future
Today’s report that the BFI is committing substantial funding to a BFI Player – enabling view-on-demand of its extensive archive – is one of the best pieces of news to come out of the beleaguered British film industry since the abolition of the Film Council.
It’s a serious statement of intent about the preservation of our cultural heritage. Too often, British film is sneered upon in comparison to Hollywood or European art-house traditions, but there’s a fine lineage of ambitious, exciting and endlessly rewatchable filmmakers who hail from this tiny island. The BFI has already done amazing work with its Mediatheques – and I’m lucky to live in one of the five cities with access – but BFI Player will be the next generation of film history, opening up the archives in a way that’s accessible to the fans, critics and filmmakers of the future. Given that British television has largely given up on educating the public on anything that isn’t written by Richard Curtis, this is a huge step forward. On behalf of my kids, thank you.
It’s also a marker for the future of film. I’ve recently started to dismantle my DVD collection, on the basis that – by the time I get around to watching half of the films I own – everything will be digitised and streamable at the click of a mouse. The BFI has validated this hunch, and I’m really grateful that an organisation at the weirder, more avant-garde end of the filmmaking spectrum has taken the initiative. It means that it won’t just be the major Hollywood studios who dominate on-demand. With luck, the BFI won’t restrict access to the UK, but will add subtitles so that anybody in the world can see how great our films are. And, in turn, I’d like to think that sister organisations in France, Japan and other major movie centres will do the same thing.
The BFI Player is a tantalising glimpse of the future, and I can’t wait to live in it. But please, BFI, make sure that the greatest short film ever made is uploaded first.