“Your Window to the World” – Ethnological Film World(s) in occasion of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

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Every year on 27 October, founded by UNESCO the “World Day for Audiovisual Heritage” is celebrated – this year under the motto “Your Window to the World”. It has become a nice occasion, indeed a tradition, to pay tribute on this day not only, but especially, to the ethnological film collection from the heritage of IWF Wissen und Medien gGmbH (formerly Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film – IWF). This special collection has recently been extensively digitised – until the end of 2019 – as part of the DELFT-Project. A little translated part of rrom the project description:

The ethnographic film collection of the former Institut für Wissenschaftlichen Film (IWF) is the largest in the world and comprises 1,953 films. […]

The film stock documents customs and craft traditions as well as (socio-)cultural processes of the most diverse ethnic groups and ethnicities: from material culture, economy, crafts to the arts – especially music and dance – to customs, rites, religion or medicine. Today, these are partly the only cinematic testimonies of vanished forms of cultural expression and their actors. The material to be digitised are important objects of cultural heritage, which will be made accessible for research and teaching – primarily in the small subjects of ethnology, anthropology and film studies – through digitisation.

Auswahl von Standbildern aus der ethnologischen Filmsammlung des IWF
Scenes from ethnological films – customs, crafts, ways of life

These films literally allow us to look through the window of the world, especially into past and (almost) forgotten worlds. A small retrospective foray through the blogposts of the last few years on this occasion is really worthwhile and worth reading. In particular, the illustrious post “I’m enjoying the fiestas and gradually working towards a film documentary” by Bastian Drees and Miriam Reiche from 2018 exemplarily and very vividly addresses the significance of the collection. This would therefore fit in just as well with this year’s “AV Heritage Day” motto. It states, among other things, that the ethnological collection, which is particularly important in the context of the so-called “Encyclopaedia Cinematographica”, contains film prints, some of which are up to 100 years old. This makes their preservation all the more important. An early example:

Video-Beispiel aus der IWF-Sammlung ethnologischer Filme: "Indianerkulturen aus dem Grenzgebiet Bolivien-Brasilien" (1936
Snethlage, Emil Heinrich (1936): Indian Cultures in the Frontier Region between Bolivia and Brazil. Emil Heinrich Snethlage (Berlin) et al. https://doi.org/10.3203/IWF/B-457. EInsights into lives of various tribes: More, Itoreauhip, Kumana, Amniapa, Pauserna and europeanised Tshikitanos (material culture; festivals; dances etc.). Recording speed 16 fps, projection speed 18 fps.

However, the end of the DELFT project mentioned above did not and still does not mark the end of the work on and with the collection in terms of its long-term preservation and accessibility for research and interested parties. In the course of digitisation and rights clearance, a large part of the film collection is now not only searchable in the TIB AV-Portal but also directly accessible online – mostly, however, under special conditions: Most of the recordings were not intended for the public, but explicitly for ethnological research. In this sense, these film documents are – as far as legally possible – continuously made available on the portal. For licensing and/or privacy reasons, individual access to further parts of the collection is therefore necessary. Details are provided by this Flyer incl. form “Declaration on the scientific use of ethnological films provided by the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB)”

Furthermore, the activities of safeguarding the audiovisual heritage of the ethnological film collection also include its supplementary materials. In addition to the films, the extensive supplementary material includes 300 file folders with editorial and production files, supplementary publications in the form of more than 100 file folders, 3,500 loose leaf booklets as well as a photo archive with hundreds of photos, negatives and diapositives. It is therefore extremely gratifying that the TIB has just received funding for demetallisation and repackaging, the first important steps in the systematic processing of these accompanying materials, to take place from October 2021.

Two examples of film-accompanying materials – opened file folders with written material and envelope with photographs

Furthermore, the processes and workflows developed in the DELFT project benefit not only the ethnological film collection, but also the digital processing and preservation of historical film holdings from other disciplines. Since the beginning of 2020, IWF film holdings that were previously still analogue have been systematically digitised. In the meantime, 1,200 film titles from the fields of biology and medicine as well as the film series “Dockumente der Zeitgeschichtey” have been digitised.

For more in-depth reading, we recommend a recent conference paper, which was recently awarded the Angela Dappert Memorial Award at iPRES2021:

Lindlar, Micky, Friedrich, Merle, & Reiche, Miriam. (2021, October 26). When Digital Remembers Analogue – Conservation Metadata for Analogue Film as Preservation Description Information in a Digital Archive. The 17th International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPRES2021), Beijing, China. Preprint and slides: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5600878.

The paper describes the motivation and development of the TIB metadata scheme for reports of findings in analogue film with regard to digital long-term archiving. The data collected helps to link artefacts in digital film with damaged areas in analogue film.

The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is therefore not only a nice occasion to recall the world(s) of the ethnological film collection and the IWF film heritage in general and to invite people to browse through it. Rather, it is a wonderful opportunity to show gratitude, respect and esteem to the people who, in many years of intensive work, make possible and secure the preservation, indexing and low-threshold access to these and other historical, scientific films. Many thanks!

Porträbild Matti Stöhr

... arbeitet seit Mai 2020 an der TIB mit Schwerpunkt Wissenschaftskommunikation besonders als Community Manager für das TIB AV-Portal. // ... has been working at the TIB since May 2020, specialising in science communication, especially as Community Manager for the TIB AV-Portal.