Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Film of Christmas in Troubles-scarred Belfast a massive hit with public

Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A government film about Christmas in Belfast at the height of the Troubles is the most watched local film in a unique archive made possible by National Lottery Funding.

The 1977 piece includes scenes of traditional festive images alongside military and security activities in and around the city centre.

It is part of the British Film Institute's (BFI) Britain on Film, an online archive of more than 10,000 films which has amassed 75m views since it was launched in 2015.

Among the other popular films in the Northern Ireland top 10 are a documentary about the Hunger Strikes, footage from Orange marches, a feature on the building of the M1 and rare scenes of local punk legends The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers in their heyday.

Christmas in Belfast (1977) and Belfast: No Way Out (1970), a current affairs documentary by the This Week team examining poverty in Belfast at the outset of the Troubles, both make the UK Top 10.

Francis Jones, heritage and archive manager at Northern Ireland Screen, said a multitude of stories from Northern Ireland had been preserved for future generations through the project.

"Britain on Film has made a significant contribution to Northern Ireland's cultural heritage, enriching the content of our digital film archive and increasing public access," he said.

Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977
Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977

"The films we unearthed trace the arc of moving image history, and our society, over the course of the 20th century.

"They include The Agony of Belfast, a newsreel depicting the conflict of 1920, the nostalgic Scenes from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (1958), amateur films such as Building of M1 at Stockman's Lane (1961), landmark documentary Belfast: No Way Out (1970), or government films such as Christmas in Belfast (1977).

"They document everyday life and historic events, a multitude of stories preserved for future generations."

Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977
Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977

Comedian and amateur film historian Paul Merton viewed the top 10 as part of the National Lottery's 25th birthday celebrations and said it was a wonderful experience.

"Britain on Film is an ambitious project that has made the rich unseen film history of the UK accessible to the whole nation, with thousands of titles from 120 years' worth of films drawn from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners from across the UK from Victorian times to the 1990s," he added.

"The films have captured the imagination of the public and amassed an incredible 75m online views.

Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977
Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977

"They are incredible and are a wonderful way to get lost in our history and heritage for an hour, or even a day. I love it and it's all thanks to those pink tickets at newsagents. Who knew?"

The National Lottery has invested £8.7m in more than 218 film-related projects in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years, from independent films to community film clubs.

In addition, it has funded the production of films in Northern Ireland, working with Northern Irish film-making talent and crews, including Normal People, Wildfire, High-Rise and Philomena.

Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977
Scenes from Christmas in Belfast, with footage from 1977

It has also helped 432 young people from Northern Ireland learn about working in film through the BFI Film Academy.

More than 10,000 titles spanning 120 years are available to watch for free at player.bfi.org.uk/free

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