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How the BFI is preserving digital videos from lockdown for the future

BFI's National Archive curator tells TVBEurope about plans to save videos from the UK's lockdown

The BFI has launched a new project asking the British public to recommend online videos that best represent how the country has experienced the impact of coronavirus.

Britain on Lockdown aims to create an online video archive of some of the best short clips created during lockdown, from Joe Wicks’ PE lessons to Boris Johnson’s video tweet announcing he had coronavirus symptoms.

If the BFI National Archive doesn’t collect and preserve them, can we guarantee that they’ll still be there in 5 years, 50 years, 200 years?” Robin Baker, head curator at the BFI National Archive tells TVBEurope.

“Video platforms come and go, but the BFI National Archive has been here for 85 years with a mission to preserve. These videos are an extraordinarily potent record of how the people of Britain experienced the time of lockdown and need to be part of the record we take into the future.”

All of the suggested videos will be added to the database, where they’ll then be viewed by the BFI National Archive’s curators. “We’ll be using many criteria for selection – from the innovation of filmmaking to how impactful they’ve been to how they represent a wide range of narrative voices from across the UK,” explains Baker.

Joe Wicks’ daily PE sessions have been a must-watch for many families

In terms of how the videos will be archived, the BFI National Archive has developed an integrated digital preservation solution using three major infrastructure components: a Collections Information Database from Axiell, a Media Asset Management system from Imagen, and a data tape storage infrastructure from Spectra Logic.

These systems are integrated with a set of microservices written in Python, to take descriptive metadata from CID and ingest media to Imagen – using that metadata to inform the appropriate Imagen ingest workflow. Imagen integrates with Black Pearl from Spectra Logic, to store the original preservation-quality media to two geographically separated data tape libraries, on LTO and IBM data tapes, with robust digital preservation processes such as fixity confirmation.

A lower quality access copy is created by Imagen for web browser viewing, stored on a Dell EMC Isilon storage cluster, and this lower bitrate version can be made available to BFI staff at their desks in the Imagen Web application, to facilitate cataloguing, interpretation and research.

According to Baker, the videos will be kept for “as we continue to preserve the films of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, and Powell and Pressburger. We’re talking about the very long term here. In theory, for ever. So, as long as the UK has a national collection of film and TV, they will be safe. They’ll survive many times longer than any of us will.”

Asked which video he would pick to add to the archive, Baker cites a short video posted on Facebook and Instagram on 19th March by Dawn Bilbrough, a critical care nurse in York. “It was posted in the middle of the stockpiling madness and she pleaded ‘You just need to stop it because it’s people like me that are going to be looking after you when you’re at your lowest, so just stop it, please.’

“Her pleas couldn’t have been more desperate or heartfelt and impacted on both government and supermarkets and made many people in the UK take a long, hard look at their own behaviour.”

Anyone who would like to suggest a video can do so via the BFI’s website.