The British Film Institute (BFI) exists to promote greater understanding and appreciation of, and access to, film and moving image culture in the UK. It was founded in 1933, as a charity governed by Royal Charter. The BFI is an internationally recognised hub for culture, with many creative and industrial roles, bringing together the BFI National Archive and BFI Reuben Library, film distribution, exhibition and education, publishing and festivals.The BFI also distributes archival and cultural cinema to other venues –to more than 800 venues across the UK each year, as well as to a substantial number of overseas venues.
The BFI runs the BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre) and BFI IMAX cinema, which is operated by Odeon Cinemas on behalf of the BFI, both located in South Bank. The BFI Southbank owes it origins to the 1951 Festival of Britain and the ‘Télekinema’, a purpose-built cinema designed to celebrate British film-making and technology. Never intended to be a permanent exhibition, the Télekinema’s popularity led to the National Film Theatre opening in 1957, tucked underneath Waterloo Bridge’s southern arches.
Initially containing only one cinema, the Theatre was given a second in 1970 and became one of the world’s leading cinematheques. In 2007 the National Film Theatre was relaunched as BFI Southbank in much enlarged premises. Today there are three cinemas and studio space as well as the Mediatheque, a free, world-class television and film archive, spanning everything from early documentaries to modern soap operas and comedy programmes.
The BFI IMAX has the largest cinema screen in the UK, and shows popular recent releases and short films showcasing its technology, which includes 3D screenings and 11,600 watts of digital surround sound.
Since 1957, the BFI has run the annual London Film Festival. Other major annual festivals include BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival and the youth-orientated Future Film Festival, the UK’s most important industry film festival for young filmmakers aged 16-25. Through the BFI Film Fund, the BFI awards Lottery funding to develop and support film production, distribution, education, audience development and market intelligence and research.