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:

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

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.

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.

Three Archives in two Weeks: Where is Digitisation?

Sigrun Lehnert, Hamburg

20 September 2018


In February this year, I visited three archives within two weeks: The Centre National de l’Audiovisuel (CNA) in Dudelange, Luxembourg, the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, Germany, and the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA) in Potsdam-Babelsberg, close to Berlin, Germany. At the CNA, I tried to find out something about the newsreel collection of Blick in die Welt they keep there (French-influenced newsreel, produced from 1945 to 1986/1987), and about the working processes at a national archive regarding digitisation. At the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, I did two days of research on production documents from the production company of Blick in die Welt (that was only possible directly at the archive). And finally, on the following Monday, 12 February 2018, I attended a workshop on digitisation in media archives[1] – including a guided tour at the DRA in Babelsberg. The visit of the archive was highly interesting, and I would like to start with some remarkable details on digital supported exploitation of archival material.

At first, our workshop group listened to an informative talk by Julia Weber, who is responsible for rights and licenses at DRA. We learned that DRA in Babelsberg stored all TV and radio material of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). The collection is used by journalists and film makers, but also by cultural organisations, museums, universities, and so on.2 Since 2012, the DRA has followed a new strategy for digital exploitation of archival material. So far, the half of all the programme hours have been digitised (22,000 hours). By 2020, the digitisation for all TV shows should be finished. It would take some more time for including all radio material as well, we were told. The most important advantage is that the digitised material could be taken over in a central data base (“Fernsehdatenbank”, FESAD). Ms Weber showed us that files can be called directly from the database. This way, all details about the piece can then easily be documented, e.g. original sound, verbal presentation, key frames. However, the research in FESAD is only possible at the archive, and not online.

On the guided tour, I was impressed about the amount of saved material from 1945 to 1991. But we were told that the gaps were immense, and only 35,000 programme hours were recorded. The rest must be regarded as lost – as due to material shortage the tapes were overwritten again and again. Our workshop group also visited the storage rooms: Audio magnet tapes are stored at a constant temperature of 16 degrees Celsius and 40-50 percent room humidity. Astonishingly, the DRA stores 450,000 tapes with sound, radio plays, and verbal pieces, which are rarely used so far! In the room for coloured film it was freezing cold because the films are preserved by constant 4 degrees below zero.

Most impressive was the glimpse at the technological devices for the digitisation process. The film scanner is able to digitise 16mm and 35mm film formats with a resolution of 5K (5120 × 2880 pixels). The digitisation of a 90-minute film takes two days (the eight-fold time!). The correction of colour is usually done during the digitising process and so the result depends highly on the skills of the staff member responsible for film technology. Mostly, it is a matter of consideration to decide which ‘look’ should be preserved for keeping it as authentic as possible after the digitisation process, we were told.

At the CNA, the digitisation of films has been outsourced so far. The CNA collects all Luxembourg television and film productions. When I asked how the modern presentation technology in cinemas and television effects the archiving, I learned that this is a big problem for the CNA, as the amount of digital data increases a lot. In February 2018, a new database system has been set up for an improved saving of data, and finally, for providing them online to public users. The CNA has a cinema and shows current films which are provided as digital files. The archive films are not presented as a curated film programme. I think that is a pity, as the public doesn’t get to know which historical films CNA stores. CNA preserves a great amount of private amateur films. After a private film collection is offered, it will be examined, and assessed whether it is worth being preserved. If so, the 8 mm films stay for some days in a special room at a temperature of five degrees and are then brought to the film department. During the viewing, the responsible staff member notes down sound or colour and a short content description. Following this, all notes are typed in a database. I was offered the chance to take a look in the storage rooms and learned that the space is almost fully utilised. From the beginning, the building did not have enough space, I was told.

But initially, I came to CNA as I heard by chance that they have newsreels which don’t belong to their collection focus and so they don’t want or need them. As the Blick in die Welt is a newsreel production which is extremely underexplored,[2] I got in touch with the head of film collection and asked her for some more details. But, I was informed that they don’t knew anything about the reels (the amount, edition numbers, content, nor were it came from), and the collection was not exploited. If I wanted to know more about the reels, I could come over to Luxembourg to work on the inventory. As I recognised by a photo the CNA sent me, the collection comprised not only the Blick in die Welt, but also the UfaWochenschau (see fig.4). I asked the head of Film- und Fernsehmuseum Hamburg e.V., if he was interested to take on reels of Ufa-Wochenschau[3] and Blick in die Welt with Hamburg-related topics. He confirmed that he was, and I travelled to Luxembourg to make a list of the reels.

The reels were stored at a building on a former industrial site, which was about to be demolished as new housings should be built later this year. It turned out that they store over 400 reels in cans and boxes! I found around 150 reels of Blick in die Welt (1970-1973), around 260 editions of Ufa-Wochenschau (most of them 1962-1968) and around 20 reels of documentaries on special topics (probably from the newsreel production company), for example traffic or dancing. The boxes still carried the addresses of the cinemas they were delivered to, and the sender – the newsreel production company. Some boxes were not labelled, and we took them with us for a closer examination.

Back at the CNA film department, we tried to unroll the tapes. However we found out that two of the boxes just contained pieces with the opening title or the end credits of Ufa-Wochenschau. That is very interesting – possibly the cinemas did that cutting themselves, either for storing pieces in case the opening title was worn and needed replacement, or they sampled the newsreel films – maybe cut out ‘uninteresting’ stories and created their ‘own’ newsreel films by using the opening title and the end credit.[4] If this assumption is correct, it is not provable what the Luxembourg people in the 1950s to the 1970s could see from the German newsreels – which impression they got about Germany. Other reels in unlabelled boxes, I tried to watch and did research in the filmothek of Bundesarchiv to find out the edition number and production data. But unfortunately, the sound at the Steenbeck (see fig.) didn’t work. But the other day it should have been fixed. The problem with such editing tables is, that spare parts are quite rare. Anyway, I found out the topics and the numbers and gave the complete list of the newsreels Blick in die Welt and Ufa-Wochenschau to the head of film collection. The following day, I travelled to Koblenz to do some research in the Bundesarchiv about the production of the Blick in die Welt. Three months before the visit, I got in touch with the “Archivfachlicher Dienst” (archival service). I called and explained my research interests. Following this, I received an email with some very helpful hints on appropriate files. Additionally, I had a look at the online-research tool “Invenio” – but the results were not sufficient. In order to save time, I would highly recommend asking the cooperative archivists at the Bundesarchiv. I ordered the files at least two weeks before my trip to Koblenz – and they were all there in the reading room (“Lesesaal”). It was even possible to take photos (only when the file is marked with the special allowance) at special tables with pads for placing down the file properly. I have found out some really interesting details about the struggle of Blick in die Welt in competition with Neue Deutsche Wochenschau and Ufa-Wochenschau for public orders from the Federal government. It seems that until the 1970s the newsreel production companies didn’t fight so much against the competitor ‘television’, but fought against each other. Finally, I found some public orders from 1975/1976 (!) for producing short service films, e.g. on topics like: what to consider when buying a stereo system or booking a package tour. Young people should have been attracted by the newsreels as they still visited the cinemas – in contrary to elder generations, which preferred watching television in those days.

Back at home, I spoke to the head of the Film- und Fernsehmuseum Hamburg e.V. about the 400 newsreel boxes at the CNA in Luxembourg. But unfortunately, this amount was way too much for the museum. So, he asked another private archive and the professional film collector. He was interested in taking the whole collection, picking up the reels at his own cost, keeping them properly at dry rooms with the right room climate, and could even digitise the film material. As all rights are clarified, he was only interested in collecting for saving a piece of film heritage (and not using the films commercially). But in the end, the CNA decided not to give the newsreels to the private archive.  Considering that experience, I think that on the one hand state and national archives should cooperate more with private collectors – as archives are always short with space for original material and financial support for digitisation. On the other hand, a wide range of material is probably stored by private persons – inaccessible for anyone else.

[1] Workshop „speichern | orientieren | produzieren“, organised by the Fachgruppe Speicherkulturen (working group culture of storage), Studienkreis Rundfunk und Geschichte, http://rundfunkundgeschichte.de/fachgruppen/fachgruppe-speicherkulturen/  2 66 percent of the users are broadcasters, 20 percent even private persons.

[2] Because the rights have been bought by a private film production company and the films are not made accessible online or at the spot. 4 Foto taken by Paul Lesch.

[3] The rights for the Ufa-Wochenschau are with the Bundesarchiv/Transit.Film and are totally exploited, the content is known and available online at the filmothek of the Bundesarchiv.

[4] Neither the opening title nor the end of Ufa-Wochenschau carried an edition number or credits.

Dr. Sigrun Lehnert majored in Media Management (Master of Arts) in Hannover, Germany. Since 2010 Sigrun Lehnert is scientific assistant in Hamburg. Her dissertation project at the University of Hamburg was on “Wochenschau und Tagesschau in den 1950er Jahren” (German newsreel and early television news in the 1950s), supervised by Prof. Dr. Knut Hickethier. The following book has been published in 2013 by UVK, Konstanz. Her research fields are: film history, television history, documentary film, newsreels, archives and film heritage.

Website: www.wochenschau-forschung.de

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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