Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art: The Association

Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art is an institution located at Potsdamer Platz dedicated to developing and fostering international film and video art and receives funding from the Federal Government to this end. The institution’s work comprises running the two-screen Arsenal cinema, putting on the Berlinale Forum and Forum Expanded as part of the Berlin Film Festival, the distribution arm arsenal distribution and collecting and communicating works of independent and experimental cinema and avant-garde film history. Arsenal also encourages public discourse on the language, history and future of film in a wide range of different forms and provides comprehensive consultation services and research facilities for curators, scholars as well as anyone else interested in film.

The Association Committees

Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art is a registered association with 600 current members and 80 arsenal freundeskreis members.

The association’s board of directors is composed of Milena Gregor, Birgit Kohler and Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, who are also the artistic directors.

The supervisory board consists of the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media as represented by Ulrike Schauz, Nino Klingler, Dr. Florian Landrebe, Ernst Szebedits and chairperson Adrienne Goehler.

The advisory board is made up of Diedrich Diederichsen, Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Anna Hoffmann, Gertrud Koch and Dorothee Wenner.

The History of the Association

The First Years
In May 1963, Gero Gandert, Ulrich Gregor, Helmut Käutner, Friedrich Luft, Karena Niehoff, Hansjürgen Pohland, Reinold E. Thiel, and Carl Wegner registered the "Friends of the German Film Archive" as an official association at the Berlin-Charlottenburg registration office. Their goal was to make the film holdings of the recently founded German Film Archive available to the public and to carry out film cultural work on an ongoing basis both with films obtained from other archives as well as contemporary ones. They organized regular events at the Akademie der Künste and in Berlin cinemas until 1969. Gero Gandert, Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Heiner Roß, Hubert Liepe, Manfred Salzgeber and Reinold E. Thiel were all involved in the Friends of the German Film Archive’s work during this time.
Even back then, the fundamental idea was to combine old and new films in order to keep film history alive. In 1968, the association received a prize from the Professional Film Journalists Association for the first program leaflets published as part of the "Film Archive" series. Initial efforts were also made towards setting up a film distribution company in parallel with cinema work.

1970-2000: The Welserstraße Years
The Arsenal cinema opened in Welserstraße on January 3rd 1970. Even by this point, nearly the entire cinema staff was working on a voluntary basis, with the exception of the projectionists and the director. In 1970, the association received total funding of 3,500 DM from the state of Berlin as well as two additional 5,000 DM sums to fund two special ventures: the "The Theme of Revolution and the Synthesis of the Arts" exhibition on Eisenstein put on at the Akademie der Künste in collaboration with Moscow film scholar Naum Kleemann and the purchase of a 16mm film projector.
In the years that followed, Arsenal served as an inspiration for the many repertory cinemas, non-commercial film houses and art house cinemas that subsequently opened on Berlin’s Ku'damm and across the country. The Friends of the German Film Archive was a founding member of AG Kino and AG for kommunale Filmarbeit, two different national task forces dedicated to cinema work.
In 1970, the board of directors of the Berliner Festspiele asked the Friends of the German Film Archive to take on the responsibility of setting up and running an International Forum of New Cinema, an event to be held alongside the increasingly beleaguered Berlin International Film Festival and thus help ensure its survival.

Sylvia Andresen and Alf Bold worked for the association in an ongoing capacity from 1971 onwards, overseeing the Arsenal cinema, the distribution arm and the Forum. The association’s board of directors was comprised of Sylvia Andresen, Ulrich Gregor and Gerhard Schoenberner.
Publications continued to be brought out on a regular basis, including Peter B. Schumann’s “Handbook of Latin American Film” and the “Berlin and the Cinema” catalogue. The association also took on additional film cultural tasks both in Berlin and beyond, such as putting together a series of films from Berlin for use in film programs worldwide and working on a film retrospective to be held at the Martin Gropius Bau as part of 750th anniversary celebrations for the city of Berlin. The Interfilm festival for Super-8 films was also set up in collaboration with the Eiszeit cinema and several other cinemas, while the Friends also cooperated with Filmhaus Berlin to put on the European Short Film Festival between 1985 and 1989.
Close links to the DAAD Berlin Artists-in-Residence Program were also forged during this period. The film jury’s annual selection meetings took place at Arsenal and continue to do so today, while the association also dedicated retrospectives and publications to those selected for the film program.
In 1985, plans were made to redevelop the Hotel Esplanade at Potsdamer Platz in order to create a “Filmhaus” intended to bring together several Berlin film institutions under one roof: the Deutsche Film-und Fernseh Akademie (DFFB) film school, the German Film Archive (Deutsche Kinemathek), and the Friends of the German Film Archive. Although construction work was originally due to begin in the 80s, financing problems lead to construction being delayed until after the fall of the Wall, with Sony subsequently purchasing the plot of land. It was only in 1996 that the second planning phase for the “Filmhaus at Potsdamer Platz” began.

Since 2000 at the Filmhaus at Potsdamer Platz
The move took place in June 2000. The new premises and two new cinema auditoria meant that the Friends of the German Film Archive were now able to put an extended program concept into practice.
In March 2002, the association was plunged into a temporary existential crisis when the Berlin Senate threatened to cut its funding, leading the Friends to have to fight for their survival. Following an unprecedented international support campaign, the Senator for Science, Research and Culture and the Berlin Theater Committee declared in June 2002 that the planned cuts would not take place. Financial uncertainty remained a problem however, until the Friends of the German Film Archive were finally allocated cultural funding from the Federal Government in 2004. The old board of directors was also replaced the same year. Since then, the new board of directors has consisted of Milena Gregor, Birgit Kohler and Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, who had been working for the association as heads of programming since 1994 and 1997 respectively.

Changes in the cultural and media landscape as well as technical upheavals also left their mark on the association’s work. New subject matters and program formats were introduced to take the association’s increasing proximity to the art world and performance and music sectors into consideration and to address new challenges relating to film communication there were often partially linked to this shift in focus. The effects of these changes could be felt in the cinema program as well as in the expansion of the association’s distribution activities to place a greater emphasis on experimental film and video art. Another result of these developments was the introduction of the Forum Expanded program in 2006, a new section of the Berlinale which initially took place at KW – Institute for Contemporary Art and has since been held at a range of changing locations, including museums, galleries and theatres.

In 2008, the board of directors also decided to take a radical step in the light of an increasingly obsolete institutional structure and ongoing financial insecurity. A two-year re-launch process was initiated to this end once the necessary funding was in place.

The Friends of the German Film Archive was thus renamed Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art on November 1st 2008 and presented a new program structure and image to coincide with the name change. The re-launch was intended to bring about a fundamental renewal of the institution in response to current changes, seeking to make existing resources more visible and accessible and to allow the association to explore new paths. The publication of an online database of arsenal distribution’s film and video holdings and the launch of a new website are two further steps in the journey of an institution which has made the continuous renewal of cinema its mission right from the very beginning.