Chief film curator Rajendra Roy and I attended the 69th congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), in Barcelona, Spain, April 21–27. Each year the member and associate film archives convene in a city where the annual congress is hosted by a local FIAF institution, and 2013’s congress was hosted by the Filmoteca de Catalunya, under the leadership of director Esteve Riambau.
The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) was officially founded on June 17, 1938, with an agreement signed in Paris by the British Film Institute, Germany’s Reichsfilmarchiv, La Cinémathèque Française, and The Museum of Modern Art. The four original signatories remain active members 75 years later, alongside an additional 154 affiliates across 78 countries. The formation of FIAF was not only essential, but also philosophically applied an urgency and importance to the work they were doing by seeking international partnerships. There were no university film schools in 1938, film societies were scarce, and film festivals had yet to become popular. The general public was keenly aware of film as a leisure pursuit, but had not yet been educated to film as an art form. Certainly the need for film preservation was on no one’s radar, except for the FIAF pioneers. The federation fostered an international perspective that led not only to the exchange of film materials, but of knowledge, industry contacts, and formative preservation methodologies. With the threat of war percolating in Europe, the American, French, German, and British film archives disregarded politics and set about preserving film culture.
Seventy five years later, the FIAF still meets each year to discuss matters of interest to the federation; to offer an educational symposium in which papers on a particular topic are presented by archivists, scholars, critics, and filmmakers; and to hold screenings of national cinema selections and films related to the symposium topic. The host of the 2013 FIAF congress, the Filmoteca de Catalunya, was founded in 1981, joined FIAF in 1992, and today has the status of a full member archive. The Filmoteca collects, preserves, and exhibits both Catalan and international films. The symposium topic, developed by Esteve Riambau, focused on the concept of multiversions in the cinema. On day one, Riambau presented an image on the screen of a massive iceberg afloat in a cold, blue ocean, and stated:
“For many years, the history of cinema has looked on films with more than one version as isolated cases. Today, however, we know that the second negatives of silent films, the multiversions of the early days of sound, the variants between ‘sixties European coproductions and recent director’s cuts are not exceptions. They are part of a generalized practice, added to the effects of the censor or dubbing, that have been the order of the day to such an extent that the concept of original version is questioned. Film archives and libraries should be well aware of what is hidden under the tip of the multiversion iceberg in undertaking their tasks of classification, restoration, and dissemination.”
Upon the conclusion of his opening remarks, Riambau switched iceberg images on the screen to reveal the vast undersea mountain of ice just below the surface. His metaphor was an apt one for the film archives, archivists, and scholars tackling the mammoth subject of multiversions. Papers were presented on various topics and permutations of the concept, from how the awareness of multiversions evolved to methodological problems in the study of these variant versions. A case study presented by Donata Pesenti, of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, Italy, on the films produced by Stefano Pittaluga Ltd. in Turin from the 1910s through the 1930s, focused on multiple language versions of a 1930 Italian sound film La canzone dell’amore (The Song of Love) that were simultaneously shot in French and German. How did (or did?) the narrative change from language to language to accommodate local customs and traditions? Another fascinating paper was given by Bryony Dixon, from the BFI National Film Archive, London, called The Second Negative: The Problem of Multiple Versions in Film Restoration. As a case study Dixon presented issues that arose during the project to preserve all of Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent films, using the example of Champagne (1928). Dixon expertly laid out the archivist’s process of research: gathering of surviving Champagne materials, familiarity with original distribution copies, and studio and exhibition practices from the late 1920s. One of the most important ideas I took away from this paper in particular was that the work of the archivist in the preservation/restoration process also adds to the collective history of the film.
After two days of paper presentations, the remainder of the congress was occupied with workshops, such as the technical, cataloging, and programming/access commissions; the Second Century Forum; the General Assembly; and the regional group meetings. MoMA is a member of the Congress of North American Film Archives (CNAFA), and we joined our colleagues from the Harvard Film Archive, Academy Film Archive, The Library of Congress, Indiana University Libraries Film Archive, Film Reference Library TIFF Cinemathque, La Cinematheque Quebecoise, and Filmoteca de la UNAM to discuss matters of mutual archival concern. The regional meetings at the FIAF congress and the annual Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference allow us informal face time with our colleagues to bat around matters of both confidential and general concern. While not giving away any insider secrets, as it were, I can tell you that at the FIAF CNAFA meeting we talked about the possibility of a future FIAF congress taking place in the United States, how long color film stock will continue to be produced, and a matter of mutual concern about access practices. These meetings alleviate the overload in our inboxes and encourage international and regional collaboration.
Our hosts at the Filmoteca de Catalunya were enormously hospitable. The opening night event at the Palau de Pedralbes featured a lovely musical interlude of film themes written by Nino Rota, followed by a reception in the verdant palace gardens. There was also a daylong cultural visit to the city of Terrassa, just west of Barcelona, to tour the Filmoteca’s newly built preservation and restoration center. At this facility, the Filmoteca is able to store both film and digital material related to Catalan and international cinema culture. Additionally, the Terrassa complex has a film laboratory and an audiovisual production center that often partners with businesses and professionals in the Spanish motion picture industry. For those seeking a glimpse into cinema history, another excursion, offered simultaneously with the Terrassa trip, visited the ancient walled city of Girona, north of Barcelona. In Girona we toured the Tomàs Mallol Film Museum, which specializes in the collection of cinematographic and pre-cinema objects. The Mallol Film Museum had an incredible collection of phantasmagorical hand-painted glass slides from 19th-century magic lantern presentations. The closing night ceremony was held at the Gran Teatre de Liceu, Barcleona’s opera house, where a 1924 Fritz Lang version of Die Nibelungen was screened with an original score by Gottfried Huppertz and performed by the Catalonia National Youth Orchestra. Die Nibelungen was restored by the Murnau Foundation in conjunction with the Filmoteca de Cataluyna. Following the film, the FIAF affilates gathered in the Liceu’s rotunda for a warm farewell address from Mr. Riambau and a glass of cava.
The 2014 FIAF Congress will take place in Skopje, Macedonia, and will be hosted by the Kinoteka Na Makedonija.