Digital archive talk for Ballywillan Men

Talk: Emma Thorpe.
Talk: Emma Thorpe.

Visions of Portrush in its 1950s heyday as a family holiday resort, when a host of leisure activities was organised each summer by the local council, were enjoyed by members of Ballywillan Men’s Fellowship at their weekly meeting.

These visual memories were provided thanks to guest speaker Emma Thorpe, who gave an intriguing insight into the amazing collection of moving images that have been preserved by the government-backed agency Northern Ireland Screen.

Established in 1997, the agency was originally known as the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission and is now funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Invest Northern Ireland and the UK Film Council.

Emma, who is the agency’s archive development officer and has worked in museums in London and New York, is now based in Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart, and is responsible for maintaining and managing the digital film archive in 15 sites throughout Northern Ireland.

She outlined N.I. Screen’s key role in the field of film, television and digital imagery and its mission to promote a dynamic screen industry and culture in the Province,

The Digital Film Archive was launched in November 2000 as part of the British Film Institute’s Millennium Project and is a free public access resource containing film footage spanning 100 years of Northern Ireland history.

After a short resume of the history of the motion picture, which began in the 1890s, Emma showed a number of short film clips illustrating the scope of the archive. It now possesses hundreds of hours of film with the work of digitisation ongoing.

The programme chosen began with some remarkably clear films shot in Belfast by film pioneers Mitchell and Kenyon. A short documentary on the work of the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1938 was also screened as well as extracts from a series produced in the Republic of Ireland in the 1960s and 70s titled “The View from the South”. These had never been shown in the Northern Ireland.

Various government sponsored films were viewed, as well as the comedy work of an amateur film society in Ballyclare, but most interesting to the Ballywillan members was a ten-minute clip from a travelogue made in Portrush for the Urban District Council in the 1950s.

Entitled “Many Happy Returns” and with Gerry Macauley – later to become Council chairman - as narrator, the film featured a number of local amateur drama enthusiasts, including O’Hara and Kathleen Logan, along with their baby son Brian and Portrush schoolboy Brian Cunningham.

Emma explained that the archive is increasingly available on-line but could also be accessed at sites across Northern Ireland. Local viewing points are at the Ulster University in Coleraine, Flowerfield Arts Centre and the Ballymoney Museum. Subjects covered include drama, animation, documentaries, news, newsreels and amateur and actuality film.

Thanks to Emma for a fascinating and informative morning was expressed by the Fellowship president Dr. Michael Gardiner.

Members of the Fellowship meet this Thursday at the Ramada Hotel, Portrush, at 12.30 for one of their regular luncheon meetings.”The Battlefields of the First World War”. Retired and semi-retired men will be made most welcome.