After its founding in 1933, the British Film Institute (BFI) began to screen programmes throughout the UK for the purposes of education and study. However, these events were of necessity limited and unthematic, and it became important that if the BFI were to be of importance to the wider public, then a dedicated forum was needed. The National Film Theatre provided this focus and fulcrum when it arrived on 23 October 1952; BFI membership immediately rose from some 2,000 to nearly 15,000 by the end of the year. The NFT was originally housed in the Telekinema, a temporary building on London’s South Bank that sat 400 people, built as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. The BFI suggested that the Telekinema be spared demolition and given over for use as a National Film Theatre. First programmes at the NFT included Norman McLaren’s stereoscopic animation films and a revival of Pygmalion, but a programming policy which sought to balance screen masterpieces, thematic and contemporary trends and highlighting the new and experimental was subject to criticism as its objectives were not always fully realized. This indeed has underpinned the NFT’s own quandary/ position—the tension between being a theatre for everyone, yet upholding the highest cinematic standards—a tension between high and low art, between art and commerce. The original Telekinema was unable to keep up with the technical advances that were being made, and in 1957 the present theatre under Waterloo Bridge was opened, to be followed by a second house in 1970. In the late 1980s this was complemented by the arrival of the Museum of the Modern Image (MOMI) and the opportunity of observing the workings of the cinema to the public.
   Further reading
    Forty Years 1952-1992 (NFT Pamphlet).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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