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INDUSTRY / MARKET Romania / Lithuania / Greece / South Africa

At Film O’Clock, experts discuss how to preserve cinematic heritage


- The panellists, working for institutions based in four countries, shared their experience in restoration, and organising special screenings, online initiatives and in-person exhibitions

At Film O’Clock, experts discuss how to preserve cinematic heritage
A moment during the panel

On Wednesday 2 March, the second edition of the Film O’Clock International Film Festival (1-6 March 2022) hosted a talk titled “Unveiling Cinematic Heritage”. The main purpose of the panel was to share different experiences of restoration, and organising special screenings, online initiatives and in-person exhibitions.

After the opening words by Mirona Radu, Film O’Clock’s artistic director (see the interview), moderator and Romanian film critic Cristi Mărculescu introduced the speakers and talked through the currently rekindled interest, especially among young students of Film and Visual Studies, in rediscovering archives. The panellists were Anna Kasimati, of the Greek Film Centre; Maria Komninos, president of the Greek Film Archive; Bogdan Movileanu, of the Romanian National Archive; Austė Jucytė, of the Lithuanian Film Centre’s Information and Heritage department; Trevor Moses, of South Africa’s National Film, Video and Sound Archives; and Romanian film critic and UNATC professor Andrei Rus.

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Komninos talked through the Greek Film Archive’s work on collecting films, which it has been doing since 1962, “at first through photochemical means and, lately, digitally”. Currently, it is the only Greek archive to own a collection of local, silent films, some of which were donated by pioneering filmmakers, some were purchased and others were previously discovered by foreign film archives. She explained that the Greek audience’s response has generally been positive, and not just in terms of regular screenings within the body’s premises – two indoor theatres and one open-air cinema – but also through the special screenings of classics such as Dinos DimopoulosAstero (which drew in almost 2,000 spectators at an auditorium under the Acropolis) and Dimitris Gaziadis Apaches of Athens (with over 2,000 viewers in attendance in the Greek National Opera’s auditorium). Furthermore, in coordination with dedicated European schemes, the body was able to release films online, with over 45 fiction and non-fiction titles being digitised, or being both digitised and restored.

Rus and Movileanu spoke about their curatorial work on a common project, the Active Archive, which started two years ago at UNATC with the digitalisation of student films, and the organisation of physical and online screenings and discussions. Now, the project also includes some in-house restoration activities, defined as “a slow process focusing on older, important Romanian titles that need to exist in 4K”. Usually, these movies are scanned from their negatives, and this gives them a very clean look, at least to a general audience unaware of restoration practices. Movileanu also mentioned the growing role of Cinemateca Online, which now hosts over 150 features on a separate platform. These titles are subtitled and are available worldwide. He defined his whole experience as “an interesting journey”, since he could see these films in a higher quality and the format can significantly affect “the understanding and memory of a given film”. The service reached its peak in terms of user numbers during the pandemic-related lockdown, but it still has a loyal community. Films are priced at about €2 per title.

Jucytė talked about, a free platform used by 2,000 Lithuanian teachers to educate their pupils about the relationship between art and propaganda. She highlighted how the project can play a crucial, timely role, since we live in a world in which online news doesn’t always spread the truth. The titles come with some written material which can help teachers prepare their lessons before they watch the film with their pupils and discuss it in the classroom.

Next, the panellists shared their takes on screening propaganda films, debating whether and how these should be included as they are, for better or worse, as they are part of our history but can also carry particularly controversial ideas and meanings.

Later, Moses talked about South Africa’s rich cinematic tradition – it is the fifth-oldest film industry in the world – and the archives’ work in order to dispel the myths around it. He gave the example of Charlize Theron, often considered the first South African Oscar winner, even though the very first one was in fact Ted Moore, the DoP on the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons. Already back in the sad times of the Apartheid, the body was tasked with locating and preserving all of the films made in South Africa. Moses shared his take on how multifaceted the role of an archive should be: “What the archive does is not just film preservation, but also sound. We all know about Nelson Mandela’s tapes that we should preserve, and they’re now digitised and made available – there’s oral history, a non-film-material collection [made up of posters, photographs, clippings, scripts and so on] and a theatre-art collection.”

The panel was brought to a close by a brief open discussion.

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