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Olympics on BFI Player and Digital Film Archive

Date Posted: August 5, 2016

As the world gets ready for the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony in Brazil, the BFI is delighted to announce the release of a collection on BFI Player of 100 films which have been newly digitised and made available to the UK public, exploring the fascinating and inspiring history of Olympian endeavour from 1900 to 2012. The films are drawn from the collections of the BFI National Archive and regional and national archives across the UK and include footage of the Athens Olympics 1906, the original runners who inspired Chariots of Fire in The Olympic Games in Paris (1924) and England winning a football tournament in Stockholm Olympic Games (1912).

In addition to being available online a selection of key Olympics and historic sports films will be available to view at key big screens located across the UK in August including Belfast on the big screen outside City Hall.

The modern Olympics was born in 1896, barely a year after the Lumière brothers unveiled their cinématographe. Neither the Lumières nor anyone else thought to send cameras to Athens 1896 – which leaves something of an enigma surrounding a film that identifies itself as Athens 1896. In fact, it was shot 10 years later, also in Athens, at the Intercalated Olympics of 1906 (outside the official four-yearly sequence) and features the Standing High Jump (now discontinued as an Olympic event).

There are newsreels, amateur films, official reports and television programmes representing over a century of British sporting achievement. Two films from the 1912 games – Stockholm – The Olympic Games and Olympics Games 1912 – between them offer rare footage of an England team actually winning a football tournament, and some excellent demonstrations of rope climbing and group gymnastics. The longest film in the collection is the 90 minutes of The Olympic Games in Paris 1924, which includes runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, whose story was told in the film Chariots of Fire. The same film has footage of the first ever Winter Olympics at Chamonix and a memorably brutal rugby final in which Olympic values seem in short supply, with stars of the French team stretchered off, leaving the field open for a USA victory. At the end (but alas not in the film), French supporters invaded the pitch but the French team sportingly defended the American victors from their fans’ wrath.

Also included is an entertaining and often surprising array of games and sports that for one reason or another never quite won official Olympic status. In our LOLympics collection, we salute the champions of cheese rolling, pipe smoking and uphill beer barrel racing, among other unjustly underrated pursuits. You can view the LOLympics on Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive.

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