Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

The FIAF Electronic Subtitling Network

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

The FIAF Electronic Subtitling Network

Article excerpt

Cinema is not only image and sound, but also speech and text. Elaborate texts have been a part of the cinematic experience since the days of silent film - florid intertitles credited to D'Annunzio, omniscient narration by Griffith, agit-prop exclamations by Vertov. Since the advent of sound, verbal genres such as Shakespearean adaptations, screwball comedy, and commedia all'italiana have stretched the capacity of even native speakers.

Good translation is mandatory for the full appreciation of a film by those who are not well versed in its language. But very often, even in prestigious archival film festivals, films are presented with only simultaneous translation, by someone who has had little or no time or opportunity for advance preparation. However, even a silent film may contain a poem by Baudelaire, which no genius can ad-lib into another language.

An electronic subtitling network was launched at the 2003 FIAF Congress. Quickly, 17 archives joined or reacted to the initiative: Athinai, Barcelona, Beograd, Bologna, Budapest, Helsinki, Hong Kong, København, Luxembourg, Madrid, München, New York's Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Stockholm, and Valencia, as well as London's National Film Theatre (NFT). Tokyo responded to the survey, but does not feel the need to participate. A commercial company, Christopher Mondt Filmprojektion (Hamburg), has also expressed interest.

The members of the network decided to drop the idea of a common standard and a common language for electronic subtitling. However, a great deal can be done for mutual benefit, most importantly:

1. Exchange of translations as data files, preferably as Word documents. The most obvious advantages can be obtained by members who share a language, including bilingual and multi-lingual members, and by members who can accept English or another lingua franca.

2. Access to intermediary translations can be helpful when the language of a film is little known in the member's country. For example, a French translation of a Vietnamese film would be helpful in Oslo.

3. Exchange of manuscripts, dialogue lists, continuity sheets, master subtitle lists, and spotting lists can lighten a translator's task by 50%. Making sense of a film's soundtrack can be a big challenge when no dialogue list exists.

In the best FIAF tradition, the international exchange of such a cooperative network will assist in minimizing its members' administrative burden, although we are dealing with massive amounts of information - tens of thousands of films, and translations into dozens of languages.

Each member of the network is invited to take steps to:

- Negotiate permanent non-commercial rights for its translations, including rights for non-profit cultural exchange;

- Give other members access to its translations and to its collections of dialogue lists, etc.;

- Whenever possible, make translations and other materials accessible as Word documents.

There are of course questions about the respective benefits of "big" vs. "small" members and "big" vs."small" languages. Matters of cost and labour also need to be taken into account. As the network keeps evolving, the archives' resources will be better appreciated. Archives from countries with "small" languages may be strongly equipped. For instance, in Helsinki there is a collection of over 50,000 dialogue lists and other material, in several languages.

The biggest challenge in building the network is the fact that many distinguished archives lack a tradition of translating films. For archives which have habitually translated films, electronic subtitling is an easy and welcome step forward. For others, the transition will be more demanding for the first few years. The transition to e-subtitling and the development of the network will help everyone, in the near future and in the long run.

Ideas about databases and sites are being discussed within the network. These would require administration. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.