The European Commission has unveiled a study on a Digital Agenda for European Film Heritage. The study analyses the challenges and the opportunities that film heritage institutions are facing in relation to collection, storage and long-term preservation of digital film material, digital restoration, digitization and access to collections thanks to new technologies.

In January 2011, the European Commission entrusted the consultancy firm Peacefulfish and its partners Nicola Mazzanti, Red Cat Technologies and the IPR University Center to carry out a Study on a Digital Agenda for European Film Heritage. The study has now been made public.

The group of experts was given the remit to analyse the challenges and the opportunities that film heritage institutions are facing in relation to collection, storage and long-term preservation of digital film material, digital restoration, digitization and integration in Europeana, and access to collections.

Based on the evaluation of the current situation, of the future trends and on a precise cost/benefit analysis, the Study proposes the Commission, the Member States and the Film Heritage Institutions a list of actions necessary to ensure a wider access to the cinema of the past, and the conservation of the cinema of the future.

The proposed actions include a precise calendar of legal/organizational/technical changes that are required to ensure that film archives will continue to perform their role in the digital era and their cost.

The preliminary findings of the study were discussed at a workshop organised at the Royal Film Archive in Brussels on the 20th of September.

The key findings of the study are:

-With 1200 feature films produced yearly, one billion admissions, €6.5B in box office receipts alone, €2,6B of public aid, and collections of some 1 million hours conserved by European archives, the conservation and accessibility of European cinema is a key element for the economic and cultural future of Europe;

-the advent of Digital offers unprecedented opportunities to allow wider, easier and better access to the cinema of the past via the many digital channels that are now available: from D-Cinema to VOD, Internet and home-video;

-there is a significant, and growing demand for works of the past, both for fiction and documentaries;

-the many European Film Heritage Institutions have a long and unique tradition of collecting, preserving, restoring, and providing access to cinema works from 1895 to today;

-although penetration of D-Cinema in the 27 MS varies, from a systemic point of view the digitization of European cinema from capture to projection is here and Cinema is Digital. Now;

-soon the whole technology and industry centred on analogue 35mm projection is to disappear or to become a niche market: 35mm projection, film laboratories, scanning facilities, and the actual film stock itself, are to become obsolete;

-although the industry and the film heritage institutions are well aware of the challenges and the necessity to adapt to the new digital environment, they are still not equipped in terms of technology and human resources;

-the combination of these factors leads to two parallel, dramatic risks:

  • most “born-digital” works will be lost as they will cease to exist 5 to 10 years after production.
  • most works produced in the 120 years preceding the present “digital revolution” will be “lost” as they will no longer be accessible any more to a wider public.

-In order to avoid the danger that both the European cinema of the past and that of the future disappear, it is necessary to take actions in the short to medium term (1 to 7 years):

  • design and implement high quality mass digitization of the cinema of the past in all MS
  • adequately support the conservation of the analogue collections of film heritage institutions
  • establish and enforce legal frameworks for the deposit of all European cinema works in film heritage institutions that can ensure their long term conservation
  • implement policies that actively encourage the voluntary deposit of the works which are not subject to legal deposit
  • adequately support the Film Heritage Institutions in their transition to digital, as they have to acquire the technology and the required skills
  • the experiences in other fields (TV archives, space data, medical, cartography, etc.) show that long term digital conservation is possible and it is becoming increasingly affordable, therefore
  • Member States need to fund the creation of large digital repositories within the film heritage institutions in order to ensure the long term conservation of born digital and digitized works
  • Member States should foster the establishment of university-level education for audiovisual and cinema archivists
  • the Commission should endorse these actions and support the necessary transnational actions, like establishment of standards, dissemination of best practices, or the definition of curricula for education and professional training

-the cost/benefit analysis contained in the Study also shows that these actions are sustainable, particularly when compared to the cultural and economic value of European cinema:

  • the long term preservation of the annual European cinema production (calculated in 1200 feature films and 1400 shorts) will cost only 5 million euro in 2015;
  • the cost of digitizing the whole collections of European film heritage institutions (1 million hours) is projected to cost 1 billion euro, or 36% of the funds that Member States dedicate to support cinema production in one year;
  • 140 million euro is the annual cost to ensure the long term conservation of the whole European film heritage after digitization;

More information on the study

See also: European Commission > Audiovisual and Media Policies > Cinema