The world’s finest newsreel archive has made its entire collection available to users of the world’s biggest online video platform. The British Pathé in conjunction with Mediakraft Networks has uploaded to YouTube 85,000 high-resolution historical videos. They were made around the globe from 1896 to 1976 by an international film and production company initially headquartered in France called Pathé Brothers. The footage was shared among its U.K., U.S., and French branches, which is presumably how the British Pathé branch, not established until 1910, acquired its pre-1910 films.
Pathé Brothers invented the newsreel format in 1908, and the short documentaries used to be shown prior to feature films. Until television took over its role in the 1950s, these filmed stories concerning current events, fashion, culture, sports, and celebrities were very popular with moviegoers. Larger cinemas often had a small theater where newsreels played continuously throughout the day. They informed, entertained, and sometimes manipulated their audience. The archive’s WWI and WWII footage is quite extensive, but there are many interesting YouTube playlists with titles such as “Most Dangerous Daredevils,” “Animals: The Cute, the Bizarre & the Extraordinary,” “Fantastic Inventions,” “Music,” and “Weird Newsreels.” Often the only existing record of events, today newsreels are considered to be historical documents, and British Pathé’s newsreel archive is considered to be the finest in existence.
Mediakraft Networks’ CEO calls the videos a 20th century treasure trove and believes that “today’s world and future generations can benefit tremendously from learning from its past.” Mediakraft will create new content in both English and foreign languages by using the archives “in a contemporary context to fit the demands of a modern audience.” The company’s overarching objective is to “attract a global audience to the content of British Pathé material.” The archive is available on the British Pathé site as well, but Mediakraft believes that YouTube’s one billion worldwide users along with the ability it has to allow users to share, embed, and make comments will “add another dimension of context.” The site notes, in a statement that is music to the ears of history, culture, and film nerds, that “it is very likely” that the YouTube community “will find hidden gems…that have not been discovered by the archivists yet.”
British Pathé CEO Roger Felber said that the informing people with videos is something that the company has always been devoted to. Because times are changing, said Felber, the company is searching for new ways for its content to reach people. Through YouTube, Felber said, the company has found the prime conditions for ensuring that British Pathé’s archive content will persevere as a “pioneer in moving images” as well as “retain its heritage for future generations.” General Manager of British Pathé Alstair White said that the company hopes that by uploading the films to YouTube, all people everywhere, given an internet connection and device that is able to stream video, can enjoy the films. White said the archive is unrivaled in its cultural and historical significance and should never be forgotten.
By Donna Westlund