Today, film is made and screened digitally. Analogue film technology is on its way out. If future generations are to be able to access our Archival Film Collections, from the late 19th century to the 21st century, they must be digitized.
The Swedish government granted the Swedish Film Institute SEK 40 million (about €4.2m) over five years from 2014 to begin this major digitization project. This sum is enough for approximately 500 feature-length films. We do of course wish to continue this work beyond 2018.
Frequently asked questions
Why do the Archival Film Collections need to be digitized?
There are two answers to that questions: because of the threats, and because of the opportunities.
The films have to be digitized to actually be seen, and this is urgent (see below). As cinemas in Sweden have transferred to digital technology, all older films that only exist in analogue form (35 mm celluloid) can no longer be screened unless they are digitized. The vast majority of cinemas have got rid of their analogue projectors as they have switched to digital, and for the few that do remain, spare parts and servicing are rapidly growing problems.
But digitization also creates previously unheard-of opportunities to make movie history truly available – until now older movies have primarily existed in analogue form and could only be screened at cinemas. If the films are digitized they can be shown online, on DVD, TV, at all digital theatres and in all future media formats.
So essentially, this is a historic opportunity to make the cultural legacy available on a large scale – as well as a historic risk that the archive will close and the key be thrown away.
Why the urgency?
The European Commission and archivists estimate that the equipment for large-scale scanning projects will be available for the next 7-10 years. After that time, access to servicing and spare parts will be critical, as the archive sector will be the only industry that uses this technology. Expertise may also be a problem, and the costs may also be considerably higher.
What films will be digitized?
Basically all films that have been made to date – from silent movies to films made just a few years ago. The Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute contain 2,500 Swedish feature-length films and 6,000 short films.
How much will it cost?
Digitizing all the films in the collections is estimated to cost SEK 300 million (about €32m).
But haven't a lot of old Swedish films already been released on DVD?
Yes, but only a fraction of all the films, and in many cases these have been scanned at a lower resolution, which is enough for DVD. Higher quality is needed if the films are to be shown on a cinema screen. We should also make sure we are prepared for future screening formats we are as yet unaware of. Digitization would also follow international archiving recommendations for movie digitization.
Why should everything be digitized?
The idea of an archive is to make the material available for the contemporary age, and to preserve it for future ages. All historical experience shows that we in the modern age are not always aware what will be of interest to those who come after us. The way we see it, it is only natural that the entire film collections should be available, and should be used both in Sweden and abroad.
What is the Swedish Film Institute's plan?
The Film Institute has made a series of investments in expertise and digital equipment, and in 2013 it initiated the process of carrying out high-quality digitization of analogue original and preservation material for just under 20 feature-length films. Moreover, in recent years the Film Institute has intensified its lobbying for more resources, so that the collections can be digitized within a reasonable time frame. Therefore, in its latest Budget Bill, the government awarded the Swedish Film Institute SEK 40 million (about €4.2m) for digitization of the Archival Film Collections over the five years 2014-18. The Film Institute intends to digitize 500 films during the period in question. The aim is to produce high-resolution digital masters, from which Digital Cinema Packages (DCP) can be made. Also from the digital masters, material can be produced for TV screening, DVD/BluRay release, VoD services and more.
If the films are digitized, how will they be made available?
The Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute work to preserve movie history, but the films are owned by different rights holders. How each individual film is distributed therefore depends on who holds the rights. The Swedish Film Institute has signed agreements with several rights holders to distribute the films to cinemas, for open and closed screenings. Collaborations have also been entered into to distribute film also for other screening platforms, such as DVD, TV and VoD.
What is the word internationally?
The Swedish Film Institute's assessment of the situation is completely in line with that of European Commission experts, and of the worldwide network of industry organisations and film archives of which the Film Institute is a part. The European Commission's report entitled Challenges of the Digital era for Film Heritage Institutions (December 2011) states that "the window of time when digitization is possible at reasonable costs and with realistic expectations of obtaining reasonable quality, has already started closing" (p. 27), and later that "the window of opportunity for such mass digitization projects is already closing, and it is not realistic to assume that it will last more than 7-10 years".
Are there similar initiatives in other countries?
Yes. In Finland the National Audiovisual Archive has been granted €1 million a year over and above its standard allowance to begin digitizing the Finnish film archive for cinema use. In its plan for 2012-17 entitled Film Forever, the British Film Institute cites, as one of three strategic points, the making available of the entire British film heritage, both for cinema screening and for other platforms and screening formats. In the initial five-year period, it will digitize a total of 10,000 films. In France, €400 million has been allocated for digitizing 10,000 films over six years.
What will happen with the films released nowadays that are totally digital from the start?
They will be preserved digitally. Brand new routines have been established for these in recent years, to make sure they have the same long-term preservation as the analogue films which can be kept for hundreds of years.
What films can be found at filmarkivet.se?
In addition to the major project of digitizing all Swedish film, there is already www.filmarkivet.se. It contains more than 1,500 short films, documentaries, newsreels and commercials, as well as other kinds of non-fiction films, all digitized in video resolution. All the films can be viewed free of charge. The website is a collaboration between the Swedish Film Institute and the National Library of Sweden.
Published 05 September 2015