The time machine

Demonstration video for the Manchester Time Machine

Now here’s a really enterprising initiative, and a sign of where things will be going for archive film. The North West Film Archive in Manchester has just issued what is probably the first iPhone app using archive film. The Manchester Time Machine marries archive film of the city with GPS data, so that wherever you are in Manchester you can check your phone and see film of that place from decades past.

It doesn’t quite operate at street level – there are eighty video clips ranging from the 1910s to the 1970s, so you have to be in the right place, but it’s a natural way of connecting people today with a place’s moving image heritage. There isn’t a list of all the films used (unless you download the app of course), but the silent films include a Whit Walk in Market Street in 1911, and policemen marching in front of the Town Hall in 1914. The films are grouped by decade from the 1910s, or you can select a location from an interactive Manchester map, or just use your GPS to locate whichever archive film is near you. the clips come with background information and a ‘virtual compass’ so you can orient yourself to be facing in the same direction as the film was shot.

The app, which is free, can be downloaded from the iTunes app store, and versions for Android and iPad are to follow soon. Obviously it can only be used effectively by people in Manchester, but I’m pretty sure it’s an idea that is going to be emulated, in the UK and elsewhere. Just imagine how it might be used for silent film locations…

While we’re on the subject of the North West Film Archive, they also have a DVD out March 13th, Preston and its Guild 1902 to 1992. This is a history of the Lancashire town of Preston through its rich legacy of archive film. That there were so many local newsreel made of Preston in the early years was down to the superabundant energy of local filmmaker and impresario Will Onda, who is the subject of a research project by Emma Heslewood, who keeps up an engaging blog on her discoveries.

The North West Film Archive is one a of number of regional film archives in the UK whose great enterprise and whose important collections we have highlighted on these pages before now. Such archives have always had to think quickly on their feet, and the various ways in which they are grasping the opportunities of new media platforms is truly heartening to see.

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