Digital Futures

IWM embarking on five-year digitisation project to preserve Cold War era collections

This unique selection of rarely-seen footage from the IWM film archive shows military operations and off-duty scenes from Aden, now part of Yemen. In 2020 IWM initiated Digital Futures, a five year project to digitise 1.8 million films, photographs and sound recordings and improve the storage and halt the degradation of 6.8 million items by freezing, isolating or refrigerating them. This mass preservation project is digitising some of our most vulnerable and at risk media from the Cold War era. 
Film and television played a key role in shaping the public memory of the Cold War. As it took place over several decades, the Cold War spans a wide variety of different film types – from magnetic tapes to numerous colour film systems and gauges. Seventy years later we’re now prioritising the digitisation of these films to increase public access and preserve them for the future. 

Digital Futures focussed its initial efforts on small gauge film: 9.5mm, 8mm and Super 8mm. These narrower film gauges were generally associated with amateur or non-professional filmmaking due to their low-cost and the flexibility of the camera and projection equipment which could easily be carried in a suitcase. Service personnel, often officers, had these small cameras with them when they went overseas and used them to film their experiences of military life. This rarely-seen colour footage provides a personal point of view and records intimate moments and events connected to conflict. 

This showreel is from our first round of 8mm colour film digitisation.* Highlights include film taken by 2nd Lieutenant Richard House during his National Service while serving with the Royal East Kent Regiment (the Buffs) in Aden, between 1958 and 1959.

Over the next five years of Digital Futures these films and many others will be made available through our online collections.

*Clips from MGH 4697 and MGH 4908 are featured in the showreel and will be viewable on IWM Film very soon. Music is from NAT 2061

Have you heard about IWM's Digitisation upon Demand Service?

In order to facilitate requests for copies of films outside of the approved digitisation programme, IWM offers a Digitisation on Demand service. For further information please contact us with the catalogue numbers/titles of the film(s) of interest and we will provide you with a quote.