2. Screen heritage provision in Wales

Image: National Screen & Sound Archive, Wales (Aberystwyth)
Image: National Screen & Sound Archive, Wales (Aberystwyth)

“Wales has a particularly rich archival heritage. Our history is preserved and protected in a nationwide network of archival services. These treasure chests of information hold the key to our national, local and family histories.”

Archives for the 21st Century (Welsh Government, 2009) 

2.1 Wales benefits from a range of screen archive collections, serving a variety of functions and audiences, including:

  • specialist public sector repositories, e.g. National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales (NSSAW);
  • commercial libraries run by broadcasters and production companies, e.g. BBC Cymru Wales, ITV Cymru Wales, S4C and Animality[1];
  • collections held by cultural heritage organisations, e.g. National Museum of Wales Film Archive,[2] and local authority records offices, museum & library services[3];
  • and private and University collections e.g. South Wales Coalfield Collection based at the University of Swansea’s South Wales Miners Library.

2.2 Support for public archives in Wales is a Welsh Government responsibility administered by the Museums, Archives and Libraries Division (formerly CyMAL).[4] One implication is that the Welsh screen archive sector missed out on support through the DCMS Screen Heritage UK project launched in 2011, one of the largest investments of its kind with £22.8m invested in the BFI National Film Archive and English regional film archives, across a range of infrastructure and accessibility projects.

2.3 One Screen Heritage UK project involved developing an online platform (‘Search Your Film Archives’) enabling users to search the catalogues of BFI National Archive and English Regional Film Archives.[5] No equivalent network of archival catalogues exists in Wales. With the possible exception of the ITV Cymru Wales collection, which is housed at the NSSAW, the archives all operate independently, according to specific remits and corporate goals (dictated, for the most part, by their parent bodies, e.g. the National Library of Wales, local authorities and broadcasters). Each collection has its own cataloguing system and approach to content licensing. Indeed, the very terms used to describe archive material vary widely, characterised as screen heritage at one end of the spectrum and as commercial assets at the other.

2.4 Links between public sector screen archives do exist at the UK level, most conspicuously through Film Archives UK, which maintains professional contact and promotes collaboration among members archives, including NSSAW, through quarterly meetings and networking and training events.[6]  

2.5 There are representative bodies for the wider archive sector as a whole in Wales, including  Archives and Records Council Wales[7], a trade association that has, in the past, made the case for a National Audience Development Plan, the prioritisation of uncatalogued works and greater use of archive content in formal education. However, the traditional focus of these initiatives has been on paper-based rather than audiovisual archives.

2.6 When thinking about the opportunities for exhibitors to programme archive works, it is important to recognise how they differ from feature films and commercial shorts, which can be booked from a distributor and screened directly from physical media supplied by the distributor (in the case of DCPs, 35mm and Blu-ray/ DVDs) or purchased by the exhibitor (in the case of licensed non-theatrical screenings using shop bought copies).

2.7 With the exception of works originally intended for theatrical exhibition, and for which screening copies may be available in the traditional manner, a high proportion of archive content will require curation and packaging, including rights clearances, digitisation and transfer to physical media, the addition of a soundtrack or musical score for silent works, and research if programme notes are to be supplied.

“Due to the nature of archive films, especially amateur and home movie titles, some degree of curation is often necessary for good presentation (e.g. selection of suitable segment, addition of music for silent films etc.) – so it is useful to factor this in to your planning time.”

Film Hub Wales web site

2.8 Digitisation and transfer to physical media will normally be managed by the archive that holds the work, but other tasks can be undertaken by either the archive or a third party, including the exhibitor or community group requesting material.

2.9 One upshot of this variety in both the sources of archive material in Wales, and the complicated issue of rights clearance (and other curatorial and packaging requirements) is that there is no extensive, pre-existing body of screen heritage content simply waiting to be booked by exhibitors. Each booking will necessarily be bespoke and will entail different levels of additional work on the parts of the archive and exhibitor.

2.10 What follows is a more detailed look at two of the most significant sources of Welsh screen archive material, the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and free-to-air broadcasters based in Wales, and the way they currently approach content licensing.

National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

“The aim of the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is to preserve, promote and celebrate the sound and moving image heritage of Wales.”


2.11 The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is “home to a comprehensive and unequalled collection of films, television programmes, videos, sound recordings and music relating to Wales and the Welsh”, including over 5 million feet of film dating back to 1898.[8]

2.12 First established in 1989 as the Wales Film and Television Archive, under the auspices of the Arts Council of Wales, the NSSAW formed in 2001 with the merger of WFTA and the National Library of Wales’ Sound and Moving Image Collection. Funded by the National Library of Wales and the Welsh Government, the collection is located in Aberystwyth.

2.13 The Archive accepts donations and deposits of relevant “amateur and professional, fiction and non-fiction” works with “a connection to Wales or the Welsh”, including “home movies and videos, professional films and cine club productions.”[9] An Acquisition Agreement, signed when material is donated to the Archive, sets out the terms under which content will be safeguarded and made accessible to third parties, including for public exhibition.

2.14 The consultations conducted for this research identified NSSAW staff knowledge and passion for the collections as the Archive’s principal strength. The importance of this human resource should not be underestimated, both in terms of specialist knowledge on the technical aspects of content preservation and – more importantly in the context of the present research- in relation to making the collections accessible and bringing the material to life within a properly researched context.

2.15 The most common weakness cited by consultees relates to difficulties in searching and identifying appropriate material in the Archive’s catalogue. Online searches are conducted via the National Library of Wales’s main catalogue, which can be filtered for ‘film’ and ‘ITV Wales TV archive’. Despite this, searches can still return non-film items like bibliographic and documentary references.

2.16 Furthermore, images and clips do not accompany search results, which only include written descriptions, making the identification and selection of appropriate material more difficult. As several consultees noted, the search interface is not very user friendly, and as a result the task of finding appropriate audiovisual content can be forbidding for any but the most experienced users.

2.17 NSSAW and its parent organisation, the National Library of Wales, are aware of these shortcomings and aspire to improve online film provision, providing users with an easier and more intuitive means of searching, selecting, clearing and ordering material. However, at the time of writing these plans are on hold while the National Library of Wales undergoes major restructuring.

2.18 In the meantime, the existing web site offers a small selection of digitised clips, giving a taster of what may be available in future,[10] and the newly launched Britain on Film collection on BFI Player contains 150 digitised works from the Archive.[11]

2.19 It is estimated that only around 5% to 10% of the Archive’s collection has been digitised, a necessary step before it can be made accessible to the majority of exhibitors, and by 2017 around 400 works will have been digitised as a result of the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme.

2.20 For those able to visit the Archive in person, viewing copies of works can be requested free of charge for  bona fide research purposes.

2.21 Archive staff provide a bespoke enquiry service, to help those looking for particular content and to assist with more general research questions.[12]

2.22 Aside from requesting copies for inspection in the Archive’s viewing room, material from the collection is accessible in a variety of ways:

  • For a fee the Archive can provide viewing copies for private use, subject to the permission of rights holders;
  • Companies and organisations can purchase a licence for commercial use of archive content (this includes licensing of material for film, television and new media productions);
  • The BFI Mediatheque in Wrexham Library houses digitised content from the Archive (alongside material from other sources including the BFI National Archive), which can be viewed by visitors;
  • Two DVDs are available to buy from the National Library of Wales shop: Y Chwarelwr (The Quarryman, 1935), the first feature film with a Welsh language soundtrack; and The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918) an early biographical work re-discovered in 1994 and restored by the Archive;
  • The National Library of Wales’s 100-seater multi-media auditorium, Y Drwm, programmes archive material for public performances and group visits;
  • Outreach screenings conducted by Archive staff and hosted in venues around Wales, often at the invitation of community and special interest groups (although these are currently suspended due to staff restructuring: see section 3.1);
  • Theatrical and non-theatrical performances of material by exhibitors and other groups, subject to a licence fee and appropriate rights clearance.

“One of the best and most pleasurable things we do fairly often as an Archive is to go out into the communities of Wales to give them an opportunity to see items from our collections. It is also one of the most important parts of our work.”

Archive blog, 28 February 2012

2.23 A standard rate card dictates the licence fees charged by the Archive, with different categories of content hire. ‘Non-commercial licence fee (for museums, heritage and community use)’ is intended for environments where footage is played on a loop or as part of an exhibition for a fixed term. Fees range from £15.00 for 15 minutes of footage playing for 1 month, to £100.00 for 30 minutes of footage playing for more than a year.

2.24 ‘Non-broadcast categories, loan of material for screenings’ is intended for single screenings, which covers the type of events hosted by exhibitors and community groups for commercial or non-commercial screenings. Some works do not have clearance for performance in front of paying audiences, so restrictions will apply in these cases and Archive staff will advise about this at the time of booking. Flat rate fees are charged for single screening licences: £25.00 for a DVD copy, and up to £80.00 for 35mm film print, plus VAT, postage and packaging.

2.25 The rate card is due to be revised, making different categories of hire, and terms and conditions, clearer and compliant with the Public Sector Information Directive.[13]



2.26 The three principal free-to-air broadcasters based in Wales (BBC Cymru Wales, ITV Cymru Wales and S4C), maintain archives of their programme content and feature works they have commissioned, produced or co-produced.

2.27 This large, expanding and rich source of Welsh cultural content can be made available for public exhibition by special arrangement, although rights clearance is complicated by a number of factors:

  • in most cases theatrical rights do not exist for TV programming, which must be negotiated separately;
  • performers and other creative talent have rights in TV productions they worked on, which must be cleared and royalty fees agreed for commercial licensing;
  • broadcaster archives hold content made by independent production companies, some of whom retain rights in the material that require clearance;
  • editorial clearance may also be required to ensure content of a sensitive or controversial nature is handled appropriately.

“Sometimes people don’t appreciate that we don’t have the same rights over our content. We commission it, previously we owned them now we just have a licence to broadcast.”[14]

TV archive manager

“We always secure editorial permission before we release an asset or a programme for external showing. For example a programme that went out in 1986, it may not be editorially acceptable for it to be shown on any platform now because the language may have changed, the politics may have changed. It’s that kind of thing that needs taking into account.”

TV archive manager

2.28 So while there is the potential for exhibitors to screen TV content, there are considerable challenges, and no straightforward mechanisms for searching and booking material. ITV Cymru Wales is the only broadcaster whose collection is available to search via an online catalogue (in this case, the National Library of Wales catalogue), although the search capacity is limited.

“We don’t have a very streamlined way of [handling content licensing for exhibitors]. We don’t have people that are dedicated to doing just this. We’re doing this on top of other tasks. So that makes it quite difficult sometimes. I have to approach the legal team and ask them ‘Can you check a contract?’”

TV archive manager

2.29 Despite these challenges, the consultation revealed a high level of demand for broadcast content to be made accessible for public screenings (although as content is broadcast on free-to-air channels, those wishing to use material for this purpose often expect it to be freely available).

“The dilemma we have is that people generally come to us [and think] they have a right to the content.”

TV archive manager

2.30 None of the broadcasters offer pre-packaged content cleared and ready for exhibition, and where the distribution of content on DVDs has been considered the costs have been judged too high to make it a feasible commercial proposition.

“They’ve looked into [producing DVD compilations] over the years but the costs wouldn’t be worth the effort involved in a) producing the DVDs, b) the legal work in all the footage. The income generated just wouldn’t cover the cost. For a commercial company it’s not worth it.”

TV archive manager

2.31 All the broadcasters consulted will, in principle, make content accessible, including through public screenings, either in the spirit of their public service obligations and/or to promote their commercial libraries.

2.32 Each broadcaster deals directly with enquiries about content licensing on an ad hoc basis, and the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales  refers TV content enquiries to broadcasters.

2.33 However, in dealing with content requests, priority is given to enquiries from programme makers and commercial licensing over groups wishing to arrange the public performance of material.

“We are primarily here to service the needs of the [broadcaster] production community. That’s the core function. Clearly the [broadcaster] commissions independents as well so we treat them in exactly the same way.”

TV archive manager

“I wish I had the headspace to think about [exhibitor screenings] because it would be really interesting. We’re effectively servicing the needs [of programme makers], we’ve got collections coming in, and it’s quite fast paced. We just do not have capacity to think up ideas that are nice to have because we’re focusing on the ‘must, should, coulds’, let alone the ‘woulds’ at the moment.”

TV archive manager

“Clearly we respond to each and every request that we get but there will be an impact on other departments as well, such as legal and business affairs.”

TV archive manager

“Our capacity over the years has diminished. It’s incredibly low these days. Nobody has any extra time to do stuff; even [charging for content] it’s tough to get people to do extra work. Things are so tight.”

TV archive manager

2.34 Enquiry levels for public screenings are relatively low, numbering a handful a month across all the broadcasters consulted, although given limits on staff capacity there is little scope for managing any expansion in demand. This compares with half a dozen or so requests a day by programme makers, which may be more or less depending on the broadcaster.

2.35 In general, licensing decisions for external screenings, including applicable charges, are made on a case-by-case basis, and take into account if an event is for a non profit or charitable cause, whether an admission fee is charged etc. BBC Cymru Wales has an exhibition template, setting out the terms under which content can be made available. In these circumstances, screenings must be free of charge and groups hosting an event must clear third party rights (e.g. music) themselves.

In summary:

  • Wales is home to a number of screen archive collections, which tend to operate independently with their own methods for dealing with enquires and content licensing requests.
  • Content digitisation remains at a relatively low level, although this is beginning to change with investment through the BFI Unlocking Film Heritage programme.
  • The screen archive sector as a whole is under considerable strain, in terms of levels of resourcing and staff capacity to manage content bookings and outreach screening activity.



[3] Including Anglesey County Record Office, Denbighshire Records Office, Flintshire Records Office, Gwynedd Archives and Museums Service and Llanelli Public Library.

[14] By way of context, in recent years some broadcasters have transferred rights in works they commisisoned back to independnet production companies.  


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