Historical Background

In contrast to other film archives, a collection mandate that the association had to adhere to according to definite criteria was never drawn up. Instead the need to have films available so they could reach an audience in Berlin, Germany and even across the world arose from the association's own curatorial and educational practice. To this extent, the film collection reflects half a century of non-commercial international film history and the living history of a Berlin institution whose structure is unique in the world.

"To run a cinema for public screenings is one of the essential tasks of a film archive. There might well be an old, never-ending argument among film archivists as to whether it is more important to preserve or to show films, but nobody would seriously deny that one of a cinemathèque's most important goals is to organize regular film screening sessions. Some film archives, such as the Cinemathèque Française in Paris, have influenced film culture in their countries for years thanks to cycles and retrospectives." (Ulrich Gregor)

A great number of people – internally and externally – have participated in building up the collection over the past decades. This is the only way such a living impression of a century of international film history could have emerged. This is why we think that today a great number of people from the field can bring in their own specific perspectives to lead the collection in its extremely unique self-perception from the present to the future, keeping history in mind so as to break with a linear understanding of time.

Find out more about the history of the arsenal collection.

Working with the archive / The status quo the an archive

Film copies age. Even if they are well looked after, they take on a red tint, get scratched or bent, and in the worst case scenario they cannot be screened. It is becoming increasingly difficult to show films that are not in excellent condition and do not exist in digital form to audiences because of transformed watching habits and demands related to quality. Moreover, the fact that more and more cinemas are getting rid of their 16mm projectors in favor of digital technology means that some films cannot be distributed. At the same time, in the arts and cultural studies, the interest in film history is growing. To make the films more accessible different analogue and digital forms are needed today.

It seems it would make little sense and would be extremely costly to digitalize the whole archive at one blow. Many copies might still be in good shape but they cannot be used as the original copy. On top of this, there is still no pioneering digital format and saving data is extremely costly. Nonetheless, in some cases the only copy of a film, or even the negative, have survived at Arsenal. A great deal of research is still necessary to find out more. Until now, certain isolated cases have often come to light thanks to the research of external curators and academics.

New generations will approach the archive from a different background of socialization. This has to do with historical knowledge, cultural contexts, perspectives, geopolitical origins, theory, media competence. How can an archive be involved? How can it be made more accessible against such a background? And how much does contemporary perception change the films themselves?