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East Anglian Film Archive's celluloid treasures are still being screened
FOR more than 30 years, the East Anglian Film Archive has been thrilling audiences all over the region with its sights and sounds of times gone by.
And, despite retiring from running the archive in 2004, founder, and former director, David Cleveland, continues to present some of the thousands of films that make up the collection to clubs, societies and schools across the county.
Now based in a purpose-built office in Norwich, the East Anglian Film Archive was set up in 1976 by the Manningtree filmmaker and historian while he was working at Essex University in the audio visual department.
Having previously worked for the BBC making films for such children’s programmes as Vision On and Jigsaw, David was working at the university making films for teaching and admissions.
“I’ve always been interested in film,” David says. “I grew up on a farm in Norfolk, so I don’t really know where the interest started, but it consumed me so much, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After getting a job as a projectionist in a Norwich cinema, David eventually moved to London to work for the BBC at the legendary Ealing Studios.
His decision to set up the archive came from a combined interest in film and local history.
He explains: “People used to give me films because they knew I was into them and I thought someone should be collecting and preserving them.
“I think the idea must have been in my head for about ten years until I approached my boss, David Tilley, at Essex University and he persuaded me to go ahead and do it.”
With help from Essex University, the University of East Anglia in Norwich and the Eastern Arts Association, David began setting up the archive, the first of its kind in the country.
“We started off with just a shelf of films,” he smiles, “but it grew rapidly from there.
“We wrote to newspapers, radio and television stations, and soon we were getting inquires from all kinds of people.”
These included home movie makers, people who worked in cinemas, businesses and local councils.
“Within a few years, we had increased the archive hugely and today it has between 50,000 and 60,000 items.”
One of the archive’s prized possessions was donated by the widow of the Westcliff-on-Sea Cine Club.
David explains: “The club wrote to the famous director, Alfred Hitchcock. Knowing he had links to the area, they asked him if he would come to give a talk to the club.
“Unfortunately, he could not attend, but sent them a filmed message instead.”
Made in 1963, Hitchcock describes his holidays to the seaside resort as a child, and there are shots of him on the sets of Psycho and other sets on the Universal film lot in Los Angeles.
Other gems include the oldest film ever made in the region, of boats going out of Great Yarmouth harbour in 1896. It was made by one of the pioneers of the early film movement, Bert Acres.
“A friend of mine at the British Film Institute’s National Archive discovered it,” David says. “It’s only a few seconds long, but being a good old Norfolk boy, I recognised what it was straight away.
“Funnily enough it was found in 1996, a hundred years after it was made.”
Another treasured item was a highly flammable nitrate film David found at the Essex Records Office in Chelmsford, which showed children from the East End of London enjoying a day out in Epping Forrest in 1916, at the height of the First World War.
David says: “What you have to do with such an archive is preserve the original materials, but also make copies of them in digital format for presentation.”
Most recently, 200 hours of archive film have been put online, and David has also written two lengthy books about the archive, entitled Films Were Made.