Statement by Eva Orbanz (June 14, 2016)

At my request, Eva Orbanz sent me a statement for publication on Save-German-Film-Documents. Eva Orbanz was long-term head of the Deutsche Kinemathek film archive and, from 2003 until 2009, president of The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). Her remarks concerning the doubtful link between nitrate decomposition and explosion hazards should be considered also with regard to the statements on this issue made by Bundesarchiv president Dr. Michael Hollmann which were recently published in Professional Production Nr. 6 / 2016 – see here.


Statement by Eva Orbanz:

Film has a personality, and that personality is self-destructive.
The job of the archivist is to anticipate what the film may do
– and prevent it.
(Orson Welles)

Films are art.
Films are historical documents.
Films are part of our audiovisual heritage.

Art has to be archived. It must be available to all interested parties both today and in the future.
That is what archives and museums are for. They undertake the task of preserving materials. They take responsibility for the preservation of originals and accessibility in the future.

Original items.
While it is natural for archivists to preserve the original (paper) documents from all times and to secure original paintings – it appears to be possible to destroy film originals.
And speaking of the “Sprengstoffgesetz” (Explosives Act): It is not the case that the “autocatalytic decomposition of cellulose nitrate films” leads, in advanced cases, to “self-ignition”. Experts all over the world will reject this diagnosis. Without doubt: decomposition is existent – in the end, there is merely a heap of dust in the can. – And it is known that the explosion and the fire at the Bundesarchiv nitrate depot at Koblenz in 1988 was triggered by external factors and not by “autocatalytic decomposition”.

National audiovisual heritage.
National audiovisual heritage includes domestic film productions – regardless of the film base. According to the “UNESCO Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images”, Belgrade 1980, it also includes foreign films “dubbed or subtitled in the language (…) of the country in which they are publicly distributed, which are regarded as an integral part of the moving image heritage of the country concerned or which are of significant value for the cultural needs of teaching or research (…).
Such films have been collected both by the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek and the GDR State Film Archive. They have also been preserved by the GDR State Film Archive and were handed over to the Bundesarchiv film archive.
There should be a general consensus to regard these productions as part of the audiovisual heritage.

Code of Ethics.
The Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, the German Film Institute, the Munich Film Museum and the Bundesarchiv film archive are full members of the FIAF (Fédération internationale des archives du film) which, with the consent of its members, adopted a “code of ethics”. This code has been signed by all member archives.
(…) Film archives owe a duty of respect to the original materials in their care for as long as those materials remain viable. (…) Archives will not unnecessarily destroy material even when they have been preserved or protected by copying (…).
The requirements to fulfil these obligations are in place. There are the storage facilities. There is trained staff. Archivists have the understanding and the will to store films in proper conditions, to preserve them and to make them available. – So there is still hope of retaining the original items of the audiovisual heritage

Eva Orbanz
Berlin, June 14, 2016

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