Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Cine Qua Non; an ABC of Film Preservation

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Cine Qua Non; an ABC of Film Preservation

Article excerpt

OUR civilization today is confronted with a flood tide of recorded moving images, a heritage which poses serious problems for those responsible for its transmission, even in part, to future generations. How can they ensure its survival, the full recognition of its cultural value, and its free circulation?

It is impossible, within the scope of this article, to elaborate a fundamental theory on this question, and so far as methods are concerned, the identification of priorities must be guided by commonsense rather than by doctrinaire considerations, even if this means repeating what for some people are elementary facts.

* For all those who have responsibilities at the national level in this matter, the preservation of films should be envisaged and planned in a long-term perspective, never only in the short-or medium-term. Collection is not preservation.

* Whatever the size of a country's production, the collection and subsequent preservation of films calls for the intervention and active participation of the State, not only because this work, if well done, is always costly, but also because nowadays the State is inevitably involved in the legal, administrative and even scientific and methodological measures which must be adopted.

* In many film-producing countries the collection of films for safeguarding has been neglected for too long not only through indifference but also for reasons associated with safety. Inflammable film was still being used until the 1950s and it was difficult if not impossible to store it in premises of national institutions responsible for statutory deposits or copyright. Nowadays the collection of films can no longer be left to private initiative. The necessary administrative measures must be taken to ensure that there is a statutory obligation to deposit a copy of every film produced in the country.

* Where difficulties of one kind or another hinder compliance with this requirement, the authorities could invoke the financial aids to production--which exist in various forms in many countries--to encourage the statutory deposit of a sizeable proportion of the country's production. If many Western countries are today deprived of a large part of their film heritage, it is because they took too long to recognize this fact and to take appropriate measures.

* The problem of selecting films for preservation is a false one. As a matter of principle, a selection should not be made between one category of film and another. All products of the "non-commercial" cinema, whether they be advertising films, industrial documentaries, propaganda, amateur films or local reportage, should be accepted with the same respect as the latest work of a famous director.

* In the past, too many national film archives made unhappy choices when they gave preference to, amongst others, fiction films. By doing so they encouraged the authorities, who are not very generous when it comes to allocating funds, in the belief that after all the need to preserve films as objects of cultural value can be satisfied while adopting a compromise solution--a solution devised by people who, consciously or not, possess the mentality of technocrats. According to their school of thought a film about industrial robotization may be of more interest in fifty years time than the tenth version of Les Miserables. Selection, if permissible at all, can be based only on practical administrative needs.

* Where responsibility for safeguarding different categories of film is assigned to several bodies in the same country, it is essential that their respective responsibilities be strictly defined and that they adopt common technical criteria. It is an illusion to think that the proliferation in some countries of regional, local, specialized and decentralized film archives will improve the long-term chances of survival of a greater number of films.

* In too many instances the only functions that are properly discharged by these bodies are those of distribution and presentation, and it would be desirable that the sole or master copies in their possession be handed over to an official central archive. …

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