Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Mandatory Film Deposit in Canada

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Mandatory Film Deposit in Canada

Article excerpt

All nations face the challenge of safeguarding their film heritage. The sheer volume of this task is beyond the scope of individual action, leading many film archives to seek collective action by a process in which films are automatically preserved at a national institution. The idea of mandatory deposit of films in libraries or archives is not a new one, but it is only in the last two decades that significant progress has been made in several FIAF countries to implement such longstanding ideas. The nature and form of such mechanisms vary from country to country, depending on its own development of film and political culture, but a significant advance in one country can also serve to help a similar cause in other countries. It is within this context that the following description of the situation at the Canadian federal level is offered.

Legal deposit seeks to protect a nation's cultural heritage by making it a mandatory legislative requirement for a producer of a published work to deposit one or more copies of a published work in a national institution. This legislation is usually administered by a national library and as it was first used for books the requirement is for copies at a reference level, not originals. In Canada, legal deposit was introduced for books in 1953, and later extended to sound recordings in 1969 and video in 1993.

Attempts to include film as part of legal deposit legislation in Canada have been resisted by the film industry, citing the high cost of providing film prints or other original elements. Consequently, film is now only acquired through Canadian legal deposit if it is published in a video reference format, a format not sufficient for long-term preservation.

Legal deposit was not the only mandatory deposit mechanism pursued by the National Archives of Canada to preserve its film heritage. Like other countries,the volume of feature film production is closely linked to government funding. Canada's first federal government funding agency, the Canadian Film Development Council, was founded in the 1970s, and soon after requested that all funding recipients deposit a referencequality cassette of their film in the National Archives of Canada. Once again, this arrangement fell far short of archival requirements for a negative, internegative, or 35mm print.

As a result, the National Archives of Canada used its limited acquisition budget to purchase a print of the major Canadian feature films made during the year, but could only afford to purchase a limited number of feature films. Other options employed by the National Archives included deposit arrangements with filmmakers and individual donations in return for a tax credit. This unsatisfactory and incomplete situation existed from the 1980s to 2000. Unsatisfactory, because the existing mandatory provisions of legal deposit and government funding agencies only resulted in the deposit of VHS cassettes. Incomplete, because limited acquisition funds only permitted the purchase of preservationquality prints for a small number of feature films, and the individual deposit and tax credit donations proved time-consuming and costly to maintain.

One perhaps universal rule of bureaucracy is that when you do not receive what you want or need, you are invited to document your casefor the next time. Such thinking was a contributing factor in the publication by the National Archives in 1986 of the Canadian Feature Film Index, which extensively researched and detailed all feature films produced in Canada from 1913 to 1985. It is estimated that over half the films cited no longer exist today or are presumed lost. Another significant event during this period was the creation of a federal task force in 1993 to assess the crisis in audio-visual preservation in Canada. Its 1995 report, Fading Away: Strategic Options to Ensure the Protection and Access to Our AudioVisual Memory, reached consensus on key problems and recommended increased funding for film preservation, but the much-needed funding did not materialize. …

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