“Call for Support” at the Nitrate Picture Show (May 18, 2016)

Nitrate Picture Show 2016

From April 29 to May 1, 2016, the second Nitrate Picture Show took place at Dryden Theatre in Rochester (New York). During this event that would be completely unthinkable in Germany, nitrate prints were shown publicly, among them Blithe Spirit (UK 1945, David Lean) and Ladri di Biciclette (IT 1948, Vittorio De Sica).
Wolfgang Klaue, long-standing head of the GDR State Film Archive (SFA) and ex-FIAF-president, held a lecture on the treatment of nitrate films at the SFA. On this occasion, Klaue took a stance against the Bundesarchiv’s destruction policy and also read out my “call for support” (see below). According to Klaue, “the fact that decomposing nitrate film will self-ignite in Germany at 6° Celsius = 42,8 Fahrenheit, encountered unbelieving amazement.

Originally, I had issued the following call on April 13/14 on behalf of the announcement of Save-German-Film-Documents.org. Among the addressees had been the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF), the Association des Cinémathèques Européennes (ACE), the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and the Visual Center of Yad Vashem – World Center for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration.

The call reads as follows:

Please help to stop the German Federal Archives from destroying their nitrate film holdings.

To whom it may concern

Saving the original film artifact is and should always be a primary objective of film preservation – a principle that is nowadays also applied to nitrate film. Most film archives have long since abandoned the previously wide-spread copy-and-destroy-practice (“nitrate won’t wait”), and an international consensus has emerged to preserve nitrocellulose holdings for the long term.

Unfortunately, this reversal in archival practice has not been implemented in Germany. The German Bundesarchiv (Federal Archives) which holds by far the biggest and most important part of German film heritage, conducts a rigid destruction policy, systematically discarding original film artifacts after (selective) copying. Since the German Reunification and the merging of both German state film archives in 1990, more than half of the nitrate holdings have been destroyed. Out of 140.000 reels, less than 70.000 still remain.

Beginning in 2016, instead of preserving film as physical film copies, the Bundesarchiv will only digitize nitrate film artifacts before disposing them. With the authentic film elements gone, this exclusively digital archival strategy poses a new, and as yet incalculable risk for passing the cinematographic heritage on to future generations.

In light of this dire situation, this message is a call for your support. Please help to spread the word as widely as possible and use your influence in order to stop the Bundesarchiv’s film destruction policy before the remaining artifacts are gone as well.

For further information, visit my website Save-German-Film-Documents.org.

Kind regards,
Dirk Alt

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