The Black Hole of European Film History

DG INFOSOC released a study on the challenges of the European film heritage institutions last week. The report, which was produced by the consultancy firm Peacefulfish, presents a dire image of the status of European film preservation. The authors conclude that without legal changes and additional resources, a large parts of European films, both analogue and digital, will no longer be available in the near future.

At the same time, the study holds that the challenges – the required legal changes and funding problems – are manageable. A lot could be improved with little additional efforts, provided the Member States are willing to take the lead on this. The report also notes that digital media represent a great opportunity for the European film sector. Demand for works of the past, both fiction and documentaries, is growing and digital distribution channels allow for easier and better access to works. Some of the key findings:

  • The analogue film industry is fading away and and at the same time, scanning technologies will soon disappear too.
  • Unless action is taken, we will loose access to a large portion of analogue films in 2-3 years
  • There is a serious risk that in 5 – 10 years, we will loose hundreds of “born-digital” films every year because access to formats may be proprietary, limited by technical protection mechanisms or dependent on hardware and operating systems that are no longer in use.
  • While most EU countries have compulsory deposits, its legal provisions are not sufficient for long-term preservation, neither analogue nor digital.
  • What is more, due to piracy concerns, opposition to compulsory deposits of digital materials – particularly non-encrypted – is on the rise. However, long-term preservation of encrypted material is simply not realistic.
  • Without additional resources by Member States, digitization and access – e.g. on Europeana will be impossible.
  • The European cinema industry will depend on outside funding to undertake the digitisation and preservation of its catalogue.

You can find the full study, an executive summary in English, German and French and a PPT presentations of the highlights on the website of the Digital Agenda for European Film Heritage: