For all those who are curious about or unaware of the wealth of world cinema history and what’s accessible easily online, there are 1000s of hidden gems from various international film studios and archives that are only a few clicks away and free of charge. This week's highlighted selection looks at Japanese Animated Film Classics... 

Japanese Animated Film Classics

The Japanese Animated Film Classics website has a treasure chest of classic early Japanese animation from the 1910s to the 1940s, free to view online with hardcoded English subtitles. The collection was digitised by the Film Centre at Tokyo's National Museum of Modern Art a couple of years ago to mark a century of Japanese animation. That century began in 1917 and Japan’s earliest surviving animation, The Dull Sword, found in an antiques shop in 2008, is included here. Other highlights include The Story of the Monkey King from 1926, an early adaptation of the perennial Chinese folk tale Journey to the West, a rare behind the scenes documentary made in 1937, The Making of a Colour Animation and the early abstract piece, Propagate, also from 1937, using geometrical figures to represent the growth of plants.

Here are some other incredible film archives that we have highlighted previously, still available to explore online...

Arsenal 3

The Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art runs the two-screen Arsenal cinema in Berlin, screening a wealth of independent and experimental cinema, they also put on the Forum section of the Berlin Film Festival each year. During the lockdown period they are offering a free log in for non-members and curating a changing weekly programme of films streaming free online under the name Arsenal 3, an online alternative to their two (currently closed) cinemas, Arsenal 1 and 2. It’s an exciting opportunity to take a virtual trip to Berlin from the comfort of your own living room. Selections come mainly from their own distribution archive dedicated to experimental and artists’ film. 

Classic Chinese Films Available on YouTube

A dozen classic black and white Chinese films from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s are now available for free on YouTube — with English subtitles. The treasure trove of films is being made available courtesy of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. The list includes genuine classics from China’s first ‘Golden Period’ of cinema including Spring in a Small Town, Fei Mu’s 1947 drama, which is regularly cited as the greatest Chinese film of all time. Ma-Xu Weibang’s Song at Midnight from 1937 is also highly regarded, often identified as the first horror film in Chinese cinema, a free adaptation of Phantom of the Opera. Also included are Goddess and New Women, both of which star tragic silent screen legend Ruan Lingyu, plus Street Angel with singer Zhou Xuan.

James Scott's Art Films

British filmmaker and artist James Scott has led an impressively expansive career. Following the success of his student film The Rocking Horse (1962), he went on to direct a series of documentaries about artists, moved into political filmmaking in the 1970s, and won an Academy Award for the 1982 short film A Shocking Accident, before eventually returning to his original interest in fine art in the late 1980s. With the intention of making art movies available to 'soothe anxieties and fill our stressful days', a different film from Scott's archive can be watched for free on vimeo each week. These include Chance, History, Art... (1980), developed from interviewing the widest range of artists possible, from children to political activists, to be followed by The Last of England (2002), a part tribute to filmmaker Derek Jarman, and Love's Presentation (1966) about David Hockney. Visit James Scott's website to find out more.

Korean Film Archive

We’d also recommend the Korean Film Archive's YouTube channel, full of high quality, English-subtitled films to stream for free from the lesser known period of Korean film history leading up to the new wave of the 1990s when the films started to be shown more often internationally. After the runaway success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, it’s interesting to explore his generation’s influences including Bong’s own favourite, Kim Ki Young, many of whose films are on the channel, from moving Second World War drama The Sea Knows (1961) to tight psychological thriller Woman of Fire (1971). Other key twentieth century filmmakers represented include Im Kwon Taek, his 1981 masterpiece Mandala is available, a thoughtful drama about an encounter between two very different Buddhist monks. Kim Soo Young is another great director and his bittersweet romantic drama Mist from 1967 is another Korean classic streaming now.


The oldest and largest Russian film studio, Mosfilm's output has included the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Eisenstein, Red Westerns, Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, and Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace. The Mosfilm YouTube channel includes a changing selection of films, free to stream, many with English subtitles. One of the most interesting titles streaming right now is Vladimir Motyl’s White Sun of the Desert from 1970, part of the Red Westerns season at LIFF 2003 and one of the most popular films of all time in Russia. It’s a lively comedy thriller about a demobbed soldier caught up in a desert fight between a Red Army cavalry unit and Basmachi guerrillas on the Eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. It was regularly watched for good luck by cosmonauts preparing for space launches.

National Film Board of Canada

There are also over 4000 films available to stream for free on the website of National Film Board of Canada or on their apps for tablets or smartphones. Canadian cinema is particularly strong for documentaries and animation, many of which have been selected in previous editions of LIFF. Check out Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny from LIFF’s Arctic Encounters season in 2015, an irreverent Inuit film, turning the tables on the white anthropologists. 2008 film Carts of Darkness is also an entertaining challenge to conventions, following a group of homeless people who invent a new extreme sport, racing shopping carts down the steep streets of North Vancouver. For animation, try the existential stop motion night train journey in Madame Tutli-Putli from 2007.

Film images clockwise from top left: Spring in a Small Town, Woman of Fire,  Love's Presentation, Madame Tutli-Putli.

Film images clockwise from top left: Spring in a Small Town, Woman of Fire,
Love's Presentation, Madame Tutli-Putli.