For the current issue of “Professional Production” magazine, Sonja Schultz conducted interviews both with the President of the Bundesarchiv, Dr. Michael Hollmann, and with me. A preview of the article can be found here.
Contrary to his former position, Dr. Michael Hollmann announced a change of direction for the Bundesarchiv’s nitrate policy. According to Dr. Hollmann, a legal assessment is currently taking place “in which the BKM (Amt der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien / Federal Government Representative for Culture and Media) as the Bundesarchiv’s administrative and technical supervision is also involved”. Although the result was still pending at the time of the interview, Dr. Hollmann expressed confidence that “the forthcoming legal evaluation on the relevant norms and regulations will leave the Bundesarchiv with broader margins for implementation.”
When asked “You are hence not obliged to dispose nitrate film?”, Dr. Hollmann answered, “Propably not in the absolute manner in which we have interpreted the regulations until now. […] However, in any case, nitrate films must be destroyed immediately when the material is decomposing. We aim at a risk assessment on nitrate films’ danger potential. There is no need to say that the employees’ safety is given absolute priority. Therefore, the amount of explosive material is to be reduced as far as possible. However, in the future, we will give more attention to the precise state of conservation of a film before deciding whether to discard it or not.”
Dr. Hollmann denied the claim that the Bundesarchiv treated the film heritage as “hazardous waste” by emphasizing the primacy of occupational safety: “nobody can fairly criticize us for giving precedence to the safety of our employees.”
According to Dr. Hollmann, the Bundesarchiv during the last five years “almost exclusively” destroyed films “that were mould-infested or decomposing. Or incomplete films or duplicate copies.” Considering the pre-1945-era, the film disposal had been “in the one-per-thousand or ten-per-thousand-range. Silent pictures are generally preserved, and also newsreels that belong to our rights portfolio.”
Dr. Hollmann concluded that „we will […] probably relativize our position inasmuch as films of archival value will not be destroyed immediately but instead be preserved as originals as long as it complies with the regulations of the Explosives Act.”
Dr. Hollmann’s statements prompt a number of questions – e.g. on the actual danger that nitrate films pose for life and health of the Bundesarchiv’s employees, or whether downplaying the effects of film disposal during the last five years corresponds to the facts or not.
However, more important at present is the signal of hope from Dr. Hollmann’s announcement. Could it be a prelude to the overdue turnaround with which the Bundesarchiv could finally catch up with the international film archive community?
Rumors that already reached me from the Bundesarchiv’s film department indicate that the legal assessment taking place when the interview was conducted has, in the meantime, come to a positive end. Hopefully, the Bundesarchiv will soon issue an official statement that provides clarity on the future handling of nitrate films.
The scans below contain Sonja Schultz’s interview with Dr. Michael Hollmann, with thanks to the author and to the “Professional Production” editorial staff. Quoted passages have been marked.