Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire

a major new website examining the celluloid legacy of British colonialism. The website,, houses over 30 hours of newly digitized films drawn from the archives of the British Film Institute, the Imperial War Museum, and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. It is made freely available, worldwide. The project research team sifted through thousands of records to extract a comprehensive list of any and every film that contained footage, however brief, of a British colony before independence, and from this pre-existing but unsorted data a new joint catalogue was assembled, and is presented on the website in a fully searchable form. All told there are some six thousand film records. The earliest titles in the collection date from the 1890s. The most recent show the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. Between these dates were found a dazzling array of moving pictures. Few of them had been looked at in any great detail. There are films of all places, and of all genres: documentaries, educational and instructional films, industrial films, propaganda, fiction, missionary and amateur films. We have digitized films from across all these categories.

Alongside the films and catalogue are a series of enhanced catalogue entries that give an account of the production and making of selected films, and integrate this into wider historical contexts, paying special attention to the visual aspects of the films and examining how their messages are conveyed. Four hundred or so entries are available online, written principally by the post-doctoral research team of Tom Rice, Richard Osborne, and Francis Gooding. There are also texts detailing the most important production companies that worked in the colonies or under the aegis of the colonial power, and the catalogue can also be searched both by historical themes, such as Empire and War, and by film genre.

The project’s primary aim was to illuminate the colonial past through the examination of material visual evidence, to link this evidence with deep and wide ranging research in colonial and international history, and to begin the process of making these historically important films available, often for the first time since they were originally released. To further these goals, two collections of essays examining the integral role cinema played in the control, organization, and governance of the diverse geo-political space of the British Empire have also recently been published. Empire and Film, and Film and the End of Empire are both edited by Lee Grieveson and Colin MacCabe and published by the British Film Institute. (Further details about these are online at and

This project was led by Colin MacCabe and Lee Grieveson. It was made possible by funds provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom. We acknowledge also the important support of the British Film Institute, the Imperial War Museum, the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, the London Consortium, the University of Pittsburgh, Birkbeck College, University of London, and University College London.