How was this project undertaken, and what institutions were involved?
The Colonial Film project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and brought together academic partners – Birkbeck College and University College London – and three film archives, those being the British Film Institute (BFI), the Imperial War Museum (IWM), and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (BECM). The project was undertaken over 3 years. The bulk of the work was carried out by postdoctoral researchers, with the guidance of a core team of academics and archivists. A full list of the project team and partners, and a detailed description of the project aims and methods can be found on the ‘Project Team’ page.
How do I search this catalogue?
You can perform a simple search by entering text (e.g. ‘Kenya’) into the search box at the top right. Click the ‘advanced search’ link for options to search between dates, by keyword, and by country. You can specify that your results only show catalogue entries that have a film to watch, or that they show only films and enhanced catalogue entries.
To search the catalogue using the map, use the mouse to roll over the dateline, either onto ‘All’ or a specific date (the dateline is visible at the bottom of the map screen). The map will change according to date – British Empire territory is shown in red. Moving the mouse over the map will produce ‘circles’ over Empire territories; click to zoom in and search by country, relative to the date selected at the bottom of the screen. Choose ‘List’ to search by country name (e.g. ‘British Guiana’).
To browse films by topic, move the mouse over the green ‘Search by Topics’ square to reveal links to selected films. These films are ordered by Theme (e.g. ‘Empire and Development’); by Genre (e.g. ‘Fiction’); by Production Organisation (e.g. Colonial Film Unit) and by Event (e.g. ‘Boer War’). Clicking on any of the links will bring up a list of selected films and enhanced entries.
What countries are covered by the catalogue?
The catalogue covers all those countries that were within the British Empire until the date of their independence or the achievement of self-government as a Dominion.
Is every Imperial territory represented in the catalogue?
Nearly all the territories of the British Empire are directly represented within the catalogue. Where possible an enhanced entry has been written for every country, and a majority of countries are also represented by a digitized film.
Does the catalogue contain films from the Dominions (e.g. Canada or Australia)?
No. The catalogue contains some films which relate to the Dominions as part of the Empire, but only where other colonies are also depicted (e.g. Empire Trade). We hope that future researchers will address the wealth of material depicting the Dominions.
Why does this catalogue use the colonial era titles for countries (e.g. ‘Nyasaland’ for Malawi)?
The film catalogue is restricted to films documenting or portraying areas under British colonial rule. In the interests of historical consistency, we have used the terminology that was current during the colonial period.
Does the catalogue contain film of colonial countries after they gained their independence?
No. Though there are many films of independence celebrations, the catalogue is restricted to films showing or portraying the colonial period. The catalogue does include a selection of prominent fiction films produced after independence. These films have been included because they depict the colonial period in the country they portray (e.g. Gandhi, though made in 1982, portrays colonial India).
Has all the catalogue information on this site been newly created?
The film technical details and film synopses that can be seen on this website are drawn directly from the catalogues of the participating institutions, although in some cases these records have been updated and amended by the research team. All enhanced entries, covering more than 350 films and 15 production organizations, have been newly created specifically for this website.
How up to date is this catalogue?
The catalogue reflects the colonial film holdings of the three archives up to 2007, when the project began. More film of colonial subjects has entered all three archives since 2007, but any such recently acquired films are not catalogued here.
What are ‘enhanced entries’?
Over 350 of the catalogue entries have had a detailed critical analysis written for them by members of our research team, and as a result have been termed ‘enhanced entries’. The new research can be seen on the right side of the screen, in three boxes marked ‘Context’, ‘Analysis’ and ‘Works cited’. The ‘Context’ box contains information that relates to the history of the colony depicted in the film, the film’s production history and any other historical information which is of relevance in contextualising the film. The ‘Analysis’ box contains a visual and thematic analysis of the film itself. The two sections are intended to be read together. The author of the enhanced entry is named at the bottom of the ‘Analysis’ section. The ‘Works cited’ box is for academic reference, and contains details of any texts referred to by the author of the enhanced entry. Films that have an enhanced entry are identified in search results by the presence of a ‘page’ icon next to the film’s title. All digitised films have been provided with an enhanced entry, though not all films treated with an enhanced entry have been digitised.
How did you select the films that would receive enhanced entries?
The approximately 350 ‘enhanced entries’ are both representative of, and outstanding examples from, the films contained within the colonial film catalogue. The researchers, in consultation with the archivists and project team, selected these titles based on a range of criteria. First, the selected titles reflect the broad range of countries within the Empire and, where possible, at least one entry has been written for each colony. For those countries that feature more regularly – most notably India – the team have selected titles across the period. While there are more entries for the post 1939 period – reflecting the proportions within the collections – the project has consciously sought to chart the history of colonial film from 1896 to 1997.
The team also selected titles that relate to major colonial events, for example the Boer War or the Malayan Emergency. Films featuring prominent personalities are also included and films have also been selected thematically, so that, for example, there are a sample of entries relating directly to health. Further films to receive entries were selected with respect to production companies (e.g. Colonial Film Unit), series collections (e.g. Indian News Parade), and intended audience (e.g. films produced by BEKEfilm for African audiences).
Despite the criteria and considerations made before selecting each film that was to receive an enhanced entry, the final selection inevitably remained in part a subjective process. The selected enhanced entries are not intended as an exhaustive list, but rather serve to reflect and address the broad range of films available within the collections. These entries should encourage further research, and draw attention to the rich variety of material within the collections.
Who wrote the enhanced entries?
The majority of the enhanced entries were written by the core research team: Dr. Tom Rice, Dr. Richard Osborne and Dr. Francis Gooding. Entries for many of the fiction titles were written by scholars and academics who were specially invited to contribute their expertise to the project, and the project directors and archivists also authored enhanced entries. All authors are credited at the foot of the ‘Analysis’ section on all enhanced entries. Biographies of project team members and a full list of contributors can be found on the ‘Project Team’ page.
Is this research peer reviewed?
All the research on this site has been through a stringent peer review and editorial process.
How do I cite this website?
We suggest the following format for the academic citation of the enhanced entry texta on this website: author, film title, project name, date , webpage address, date of access (e.g. Tom Rice, 'Zanzibar and the Clove Industry', Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire, 2010, [URL of film entry], accessed on [insert specific date]). Though the enhanced entries are mostly dated by the time of completion, the publication date for all the written content on this website is 2010.
Where can I view these films?
Over 150 of the catalogue films are available on this website. Films that are available on the website can be identified in search results by the presence of a thumbnail image and a ‘camera’ icon present next to the film’s title. If you would like to see a film which is not available here, please make enquiries to arrange a viewing with the institution that holds the film in question. The institution that is the holder of the film can be seen immediately below the film title.
Can I use this material for commercial purposes?
The film and text content of this website remains the property of the participant institutions. If you wish to use any of this film material for commercial purposes, you must contact the institution that holds the film and agree a license (the archival owner of the film can be seen immediately beneath the film title).
Why are films from the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum catalogued by ‘collection’?
The Colonial Film catalogue represents the holdings and archiving systems of the participant museums. The holdings of British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (BECM) are principally composed of amateur film. The Museum catalogues these films by accession collection (usually titled with the donor or film-maker name e.g. ‘Dalyell Collection’) and then by reel number and content description (e.g. ‘Dalyell Collection (Reel 10): Christmas Party Bahrain 1933-4’). Because some of the collections held by the BECM contain both footage from Imperial countries and footage from other parts of the world, some collections appear incomplete on this site. For instance, the Williams Collection is represented by nine entries on this website: reels 1-7, reel 15 and reel 16. The full Williams Collection at the BECM is composed of 16 reels, but reels 8-14 do not show British Empire countries and are thus excluded from this catalogue.
Why do the running times listed in the technical details sometimes differ from the lengths of the films shown?
There are several reasons why this might be the case. Occasionally the running times may have been approximated from the footage length rather than measured precisely, but more commonly the reason lies in the running speed of the film or technical variations that occur during the digital encoding process. A small number of the films have been edited (for instance, some of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum titles are edited extracts of amateur footage) or are incomplete; anomalies of this kind are noted in the enhanced entry details.
Can I contact the Colonial Film: Moving Images of Empire project team?
The Colonial Film: Moving Images of Empire project has now finished. If you wish to contact us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.