Focus on Film

Focus on Film

The Learning Curve is a free online teaching and learning resource provided by the UK’s National Archives (formerly, and far better known as, the Public Record Office). It brings together a range of archive materials around key historical themes, and this includes film. Its Onfilm resource has recently been revamped and renamed Focus on Film.

This now comes with 150 film clips, all of them downloadable and re-usable, and the site now has its own online editing tools, in The Editor’s Room. The National Archives does not hold film itself (selected British government films are preserved by the BFI National Archive on its behalf), so it uses film from Screen Archive South East, the BFI, the Imperial War Museum, British Pathe and the BBC.

Focus on Film

There are several silent film clips available. There is an absolutely delightful film of Folkestone in 1904, with people just being themselves, parading up and down the streets, having fun at the beach, fooling before the camera, dressed on their Sunday best. It’s long been one of my desert island films (it has no known producer or title, and goes by the supplied title of Edwardian Folkestone), and I strongly recommend it (how drearily the teaching notes on the site describe it: “The roller coaster ride reminds us of the primary aim of early film-makers, profit via entertainment”). Scarcely less delightful nor more absorbing in its social detail is a 1920 tour through the streets of Canterbury, taken from the back of a moving vehicle.

There are newsreel films of the suffragettes, including the infamous film of the 1913 Epsom Derby in which Emily Davison runs on to the race-course and is killed. There are several film clips for the First World War, including key sequences from the great documentary testament The Battle of the Somme (1916). Somewhat peculiarly, there are also clips of a modern actor telling us about the experience of the Somme, which together with clips elsewhere of actors giving us vox pops on life in the Tudor and Stuart periods may end up confusing a few schoolchildren. There’s also footage from Ireland in 1916 (The Easter Rising) and 1920s.

The quality of the downloads is good (QuickTime Pro is needed if you are going to retain a copy), and the suggested activities (for PC or interactive whiteboard) and editing facilities are fascinating. Note that the site states: Teachers and students are granted a limited, non-exclusive licence to use the film clips for non-commercial educational use only and may not re-publish materials without permission of the copyright holder.

Well worth a look.

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