This year we are celebrating 20 years since The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum first opened its doors to the public.
We believe that the museum is now the foremost museum of moving image history in the UK – nowhere else can compare to its breadth, depth and accessibility. The museum and its collections are a unique asset for the University, and for the South West, and more and more people are discovering its delights. There is an extraordinary diversity of artefacts in the museum, from the first book published in Britain describing a projected image from 1658 to an original Lumiere Cinematographe (the camera and projectors that were used in the first film shows) to ephemera for Hollywood stars and merchandising for contemporary blockbusters. However all the artefacts are linked together in forming a history of the audience and their experience of seeing moving and projected images over nearly four centuries.
The museum’s official opening to the public took place in 1997. However it was in 1994 when the original collection came to Exeter to form what was then The Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture. For over 30 years the renowned filmmaker Bill Douglas, now acknowledged as one of Britain’s greatest directors, and his friend Peter Jewell had built up a collection of around 50,000 items on moving image history. After Bill’s untimely death in 1991 Peter set about finding a home for the collection to establish the museum that he and Bill always hoped would be the goal of their collecting. It was Professor Richard Maltby and Dr Richard Crangle who encouraged Peter that Exeter, in his home county of Devon, was the right home for the collection and organised its cataloguing and the installation of the original displays.
Since 1997 we have added to the collection with more ephemera kindly gifted by Peter and many others, and with the archives of filmmakers such as Bill Douglas himself, and others working in British independent film. We now have nearly 80,000 artefacts in the museum in a collection that delights and excites a wide range of visitors from small children to leading film critics and eminent scholars. Thanks to generous support, the stipend scheme instigated this year has brought external researchers from far and wide and underlined the international importance of the collections - the significance of what we hold and the innovative way we use it is recognised globally. The museum supplies artefacts to over 120 classes each year with around 2000 students using the collection in their study, with many more using our extensive digital offer. Obviously the museum is integral to Film Studies at Exeter, attracting students from around the world who benefit from this unique resource and academic experts who research and interpret the holdings. However the museum and its artefacts are also used extensively by many other disciplines here: English, History, History of Art, Drama, Modern Languages, Theology and Sociology and there are also links to the sciences.
Beyond the classroom the museum plays another vital role in the University, volunteering at the museum has been a central part of the student experience for many students and alumni and you can see our film about volunteers here. The curatorial team are enormously grateful for the time and talents of students who have helped to make the museum a success and in turn their time with here has helped many of them get exciting jobs in the media, culture and heritage industries.
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is open to everybody and can be enjoyed by all. Attendances have quadrupled in the last 5 years as more and more people discover its delights. It is a treasure that no longer feels ‘hidden’. We welcome schoolchildren, pensioners and other local people as well as tourists from both the rest of the UK and around the world. The comments in our visitors’ book and on our social media reflect the thrill of discovering the collection and the stories it tells about moving images and their audiences.
We would like to thank Peter Jewell’s extraordinary generosity in donating the collection he built up with Bill Douglas to establish the museum and to his continued support as well as that of other donors. Increasingly the museum is acknowledged as one of the leading resources for world-class research and teaching on the moving image, as befits a world-class University, and we look forward to a long and productive future ahead.
We would also like to thank all our visitors over the years - we look forward to seeing you again soon. The displays keep changing and there is also something new to see.