A Day at the Archives… Centre National De L’Audiovisuel (CNA)

Alessandra Luciano, CNA

9 October 2018


This blog post will focus on the Centre national de l’audiovisuel in Luxembourg, which can be summarised as the national audiovisual archive. However, it is more than a repository for national heritage, situated at the crossroads of multiple roles; it often reflects the current status of Luxembourg’s cultural landscape.

I will briefly address its politics and missions, but as I am the collection manager for the moving image archives at the film-tv department, I will focus primarily on our film, television and amateur film collections.

The Centre national de l’audiovisuel (CNA) is at the crossroads of multiple and different institutions. Indeed, we are an archive which has to preserve the Luxembourgish moving image, photography and sound archives for the future. We are also a museum, with two permanent collections on display Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man in Clervaux Castle in the north of the country (location chosen by Steichen himself), and The Bitter Years located in Dudelange on a renovated industrial site. These collections are complimented by rotating exhibitions in our gallery spaces. These mainly photographic exhibitions are either contemporary or archival. We also produce and help to further young talent or established artists. The film-tv department, amongst other tasks, sponsors pre-production of films that either use archival material from our own collections, or sometimes, when budgets and time permit, produce documentaries. Similar, the sound department records new CDs and also assists in the recordings of new musical pieces. One of my favourite projects is the recording of new scores by historical Luxembourgish musicians that have never been recorded before, thus not only preserving the paper records but creating new archival items. The photo department also, besides its archival work, sponsors new photographers and their activity through different scholarships. These can either be used to encourage an artist’s development or to help an existing photographer to publish her work. Finally, we also have a pedagogy department, which sets up various workshops and training opportunities for kids, adolescents, adults, but also professionals. These are often in collaboration with international experts. Thus, the CNA is both an open platform for the general public and a professional institution.

Figure 1: © CNA, photograph or original document outlining the CNA’s mission by Minister Robert Krieps 1988

The CNA is placed under the helm of the Ministry of Culture, and has been governed by the 2004 laws that have re-organised the cultural institutions in Luxembourg. This is crucial as this legislation defined the different missions and roles the CNA has to play in Luxembourg and denotes boundaries in terms of what we do in regard to other cultural heritage institutions. However, the Centre national de l’audiovisuel was created much earlier in 1989. Its creation was a clear and conscious attempt at creating an infrastructure that would be responsible not only for the preservation of audiovisual heritage (film, photography and sound), but also the education of new means of communication and storytelling that would capture the present, preserve the past and work toward the future. Its missions are the conservation and enhancement of Luxembourg’s audiovisual heritage and to ensure that all members of the public can access its sound, moving image, and photographic collections through exhibitions, publications, screenings, conferences and other events.

The end of the 1980s is not coincidental, but can be attributed to a larger understanding of shifting cultural perspective and production. Concerning film for example, the 1980s are often referred to as the birth of modern day cinema in Luxembourg. Whereas of course Luxembourg already had a history in commercial broadcasting (radio and television), and several films were made (professionally and amateurishly), during the 1980s tax incentives were created to allow a professional movie making industry to grow. Thus, with it was also born the notion that Luxembourg needed a national centre that would reflect these changes, but also preserve these legacies in the making.

Moving image collections, digitisation efforts and philosophy

CNA’s moving image collections are hybrid. We hold photochemical prints (8mm, S8, 9,5mm, 16mm, 35mm and some less standard formats such as 17,5mm and 28mm) and several videotape formats (1”, 2”, 3/4”, different Beta types), as well as either digitised or digital born items. The CNA acquires through two channels: legal and voluntary deposit.

Figure 2: © Archives CNA, sometimes this is how we roll

As such, since its inception the film-tv department has been tackling several collections that have been deemed a priority. The film-tv archives comprise some 200,000 items (film and video combined), many of which have not yet been itemised, or else only broadly. The archives also already contain many native digital documents. 56,000 documents have been transferred (from photochemical or magnetic to file based media), a portion of which will have to be rescanned to a higher quality. More than 400 feature-length and short films, as well as documentaries made in Luxembourg since the early 20th century (35mm/16mm), are archived at the CNA. The archives also house more recent productions in digital format, which have been added via the legal deposit route.

The film prints people deposit voluntarily, (and for which they are not always the rights holder) are mostly home movies, industry films or semi-professional productions. The CNA collects only national productions; international deposits are offered to the Cinémathèque de la Ville de Luxembourg.

Figures 3 and 4: © Romain Girtgen, CNA cold storage vaults for photochemical prints (6°C/ 40RH)

Under the legal deposit law, producers have to deposit every movie produced or co-produced in Luxembourg, with or without state subsidies. Broadly, this includes a preservation copy (a film print is highly encouraged) and an access copy. Legal deposit is the statutory obligation for every film, television, radio, DVD, Blu-ray and music producer to deposit the entirety of their production and co-production at the CNA. As a result of the digital revolution, the conservation of thousands of hours of audio and visual material prompts up many challenges in terms of technological adaptability. Consequently, the CNA aims at staying ahead of all the developments in terms of production and preservation formats, and storage media, which inevitably entails considerable budgetary and human efforts.

What’s more, since 1995, the CNA has been actively collecting, digitising and preserving amateur films  (9.5mm, 8mm, Super 8, sometimes even on 16mm) documenting everyday life in Luxembourg. This is still on-going; however, we had to limit our criteria of acceptance since we already hold over 10.000 amateur titles. This collection represents a unique eyewitness account of the life of Luxembourgers. It is widely used in documentaries, exhibitions, and conferences. Starting in 2015, we have also aimed at collecting and preserving some amateur films shot on video. This has proven to be challenging because not only were video cameras more affordable and easier to use, thus increasing the amount of items, but also the very bad quality of the tapes often make it harder to retrieve and reuse the content.

Figure 5: ©Archives CNA, amateur film collections – Kodak cardboard box for 16mm film – stamp reads “Belgisch Congo Belge”

Whereas our collections on photochemical prints are in good condition (we suffer some damage from vinegar syndrome), the state of our magnetic tape collections is in parts unknown. Therefore, we have shifted our focus onto our very large television archives. The television video formats, used primarily during the 1970s and 1980s, are very fragile and must therefore be processed as a priority. Audiovisual heritage on magnetic tape is generally prone to faster decay and obsolescence, not only because the tape may be damaged but also because the playback and records machines have become sparse and the knowledge to use them has most often not been passed onto next generations.

Our television collections encompass all the events that shaped life in Luxembourg and the Greater Region from 1955 to the present day. The State is committed to preserving and making available the entire CLT-UFA historical archives. These archives (news bulletins, documentaries and miscellaneous reports) consist of 16mm film (from 1955 to 1980) and video material (from 1969 until the switch to digital media). The particularity of the collection is that it is not only Luxembourgish but we hold a large collection called Paris Television, as well as French and Belgium broadcast news adding to the diversity of our collections. Our archives are therefore often requested and used for international productions, film and television, but also for transnational research projects.

Figures 6 and 7: © Romain Girtgen, CNA cold storage vaults for magnetic media (16°C/ 40%RH)

Unfortunately, we can only provide access to our collections either on-site or via a file server system, if the item is available digitally. This however entails that the CNA staff has to research the requested moving image in our database, as such we cannot always follow up on every request, and we have to sometimes remind our public to be as specific as possible when looking for footage. Nevertheless, we collaborate on numerous film, television, exhibition or research projects.

However, the CNA is in the process of developing a new database, which will in the long term enable its archives to be available online, and for some registered users it will even be possible to buy archival items through the web portal. This is a large-scale undertaking that will take place in several phases. Following the structural work of the database (2014/2015) and data migration (2015) stages, a lengthy process will commence to bring the database up to standard and to correct the data contained therein. When the new database will be available for internal use, a later stage will enable Internet users to search thousands of photographs, films, television broadcasts and audio documents on an online portal. This project has further underscored the necessity of good and qualitative metadata collection, upkeep and information structure. Currently the Ministry of Culture is also aiming toward a national platform for all of Luxembourg’s cultural institutions to be available online for viewing.

The collected, catalogued and archived audiovisual documents constitute an essential part of Luxembourg’s national memory, which future generations can continue to experience, view and listen to. They also constitute an inexhaustible source of testimonies for those who not only wish to study Luxembourg’s history and society, but also that of its neighbouring countries. If any of this speaks to you or you have any further questions please feel free to get in touch.

As a sort of “appendix” I would like to briefly point out some of CNA film projects which feature parts of our collections that may be interesting to some of you:

HISTOIRE(S) DE FEMME(S)
a film by Anne Schroeder, produced by Samsa film in co-production with the CNA.

The film traces the great history of the emancipation of women and of the feminist movements from the very personal perspective of individual stories from the lives of Luxembourg women during the 20th century.

This documentary features private films from the CNA collection, as well as “official” archives.

Figure 8: © Archives CNA, Collection Gerty Beissel

ASHCAN
a project by Willy Perelszstejn, produced by Les Films de la Mémoire in co-production with the CNA.

Ashcan was the code name for the secret prison in Mondorf-les-Bains where the Allies kept Nazi officials imprisoned from May to August 1945. One of the young American officers in Ashcan was John Dolibois, of Luxembourg origin and the future US ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

How did the Allies treat their prisoners? What were they hoping to achieve by holding the prisoners in incommunicado detention? What information did the Allied interrogators seek to draw from their prisoners? How did they try and make them talk?

Based on the interrogation accounts, the documentary will plunge us into a fascinating investigation into an episode of the Second World War in Luxembourg of which little is known.

208
Co-production of CNA, Grace Productions and Samsa
Film, currently in development

Figure 9

In 1933, “Radio Luxembourg” began broadcasting in England, despite fierce opposition from the BBC, and became Europe’s most powerful commercial radio station. In its heyday during the 1950s and 1960s, “208 Radio Luxembourg, The Station of the Stars” was THE radio of the rock ‘n’ roll and pop revolution, a promoter of and source of inspiration for the greatest music stars of the time, from Paul Anka to Cliff Richard, from the Beatles to the Osmond Brothers. “208” represented the voice of freedom throughout Europe, even beyond the “Iron Curtin” and across Scandinavia, and left its mark on an entire generation. The film retraces this unique history, in particular via Villa Louvigny’s famous DJs: Pete Murray, Barry Alldis, Kid Jensen, Bob Stewart, Dave Christian, Tony Prince Benny Brown and Stuart Henry.

Figure 10


Alessandra Luciano has a bachelor in film studies from the University of Exeter and a master in film studies from Columbia University. She also graduated from the Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image Master from the University of Amsterdam. Since 2013 she has been working as lead film archivist and collection manager in CNA’s moving image archive.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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