Carl Dreyer’s Der Var Engang (1922), available in extract form via the European Film Gateway
And so, after reporting for the past two days on a symposium on film archives in the digital age held to mark the launch of the European Film Gateway, it’s time to introduce the Gateway itself.
The European Film Gateway, or EFG, is a European Union-funded intiative which aims to provide a gateway to European film heritage in digital form. The EFG doesn’t hold any such digital content itself, nor has it paid for for any films or other artefacts to be digitised to serve the EFG. It simply points to content that is already out there, on the websites of individual archives, bringing scattered information into one place for the benefit of you and me.
There are sixteen contributing archives (along with other partners), though fourteen are currently listed on the site: Cinecittà Luce (Rome), Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema (Lisbon), Det Danske Filminstitut (Copenhagen), Deutsches Filminstitut – DIF e.V. (Frankfurt), EYE Film Instituut Nederland (Amsterdam), Filmarchiv Austria (Vienna), Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen arkisto (Helsinki), La Cinémathèque française (Paris), Lichtspiel – Kinemathek Bern (Berne), Lietuvos Centrinis Valstybės Archyvas (Vilnius), Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum (Budapest), Národní filmový archiv (Prague), Nasjonalbiblioteket (Oslo), Tainiothiki tis Ellados (Athens). Not quite every member state of the European Union is represented, and the UK is conspicuous by its absence, though I understand that the Imperial War Museum will be contributing at a further stage in the EFG’s development. The leading contributors so far are Italy’s Archivio Luce, the Danish Film Archive, and the Deutsches Filminstitut.
What you get is, as of this moment, access to 391,229 digital objects, compising 23,390 videos, 357,452 images and 10,387 texts. Films are primarily non-fiction (newsreels, documentaries etc), but some fiction films can be found; the extensive range of images covers a extensive range of cinema history (most names that I typed in brought up something); and the documents include newspaper cuttings, scripts, censorship records, digitised books and so on.
Searching is a bit on the basic side. There is no advance search option, so there is no way that I’ve been able to discover that lets you search every film dating before 1930, for example, or all the documents from one particular archive. However, once you have searched for something, there are opportunities to refine your search by archive, medium, date period, or language, so it’s best to search for something, then explore the records thereafter. Frustratingly there is no option to refine searches by genre (say if you wanted to find fiction films only).
However, you can play a trick on the Gateway by searching for “a”, which brings up just about every record. Refining this by film as medium and dates 1900-1929 reveals that there are at least 687 films from the silent period available to view. These include 524 from Det Danske Filminstitut, 91 from Luce, 38 from Tainiothiki tis Ellados, 20 from Filmarchiv Austria, 12 from Národní filmový archiv, and 2 from Lichtspiel – Kinemathek Bern. All of these films can be found on their respective archives’ websites, some in extract form only. Do note that, though most of the site in English, you will be confronted with Greek, Czech or other foreign language only sections of the site.
Search results on the EFG for ‘Asta Nielsen’
Many of the films and other digital objects are gathered in to collections, which usefully you are allowed to browse. Here are the descriptions from the EFG of some of the collections that relate to our area of silent film:
Cinecittà Luce: Documentary and Short Film Collection 1920-1990
3,000 items from a unique collection of cinematographic non-fiction and fiction works, since the silent film era to our days, black and white and colored, short and long, featuring titles of different topics from history to culture, by a myriad of directors, including, among them the first works of great masters like Rossellini, Antonioni, Comencini, De Seta, and other famous names of Italian filmmaking.
Det Danske Filminstitut: Early Documentary and Fiction Films and Trailers
The collection of the Danish Film Institute available on EFG contains a number of early documentary films, which display the life and look of the Danish society in the period of 1906 to 1940. Among the 300 films are straight depictions of modern production equipment and trade, as well as more propagandistic titles and news items. The over 50 early fiction films available are a raw collection of short films that give an impression of what early audiences were entertained by. In addition, around 700 teaser previews of the films available in the Danish Film Institute’s educational distribution can be found on EFG. The latter collection contains current films that are chosen mainly for their value in education and general audience informative qualities.
Det Danske Filminstitut: The Films by Cinema Pioneer Peter Elfelt
The 77 films by Danish cinema pioneer Peter Elfelt (1866-1931) are not only interesting from a cinematic point of view but they are also unique contemporary documents. As royal court photographer, Elfelt had access to the most important people and events at his time, which is reflected by his films, focusing on Denmark’s high society.
Deutsches Filminstitut: Costume and Set Designers’ Collections
More than 200 set designs and 900 film costume designs, sketches and notes by distinguished German (film) architects Otto Hunte, Walter Reimann and Hans Poelzig and costume designers such as Ali Hubert, Helga Kischkat-Reuter and Irms Pauli can now be accessed via the EFG. Many of the design sketches represent milestones in their field, e.g. the set designs for “Metropolis” (1925/26) or “Der Golem wie er in die Welt kam” (1920).
La Cinémathèque française: Magic Lantern Slides Collection
The Cinémathèque française’s collection of magic lantern slides illustrates the pre-cinema era and contains some of the finest and most well-preserved slides still in existence. A selection of around 1,500 of these hand-painted and photographic unique artworks from France, Great Britain, Germany and the USA covering the 18th century until the 1920s is available on EFG.
La Cinémathèque française: Photos of the Triangle Film Corporation
The Triangle Film Corporation existed from 1915 to 1918. Employing directors such as D.W. Griffiths, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennet it was on of the largest American production companies at its time. By means of around 1,400 photos of the John E. Allen – Triangle Collection, the history of the company can be retraced.
La Cinémathèque française: The Digital Library Collection
La Cinémathèque française has a precious book collection which retraces the long adventure of the prehistory of the cinema and photographic and film techniques. The approximately 280 books of this collection date back to the 17th century and can be found on EFG.
La Cinémathèque française: The Étienne-Jules Marey Collection
The scientist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830 – 1904) used photographic methods to study the movement of human and animal throughout his life. La cinémathèque offers access to around 400 photos from the estate of Étienne-Jules Marey via EFG.
La Cinémathèque française: The Muybridge Collection
With the serialisation of photos Eadward Muybridge was one of the first who created the impression of moving images. EFG gives access to about 700 images that emanate from the estate of Muybridge.
Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum: Photo Collection
The selection of around 1,000 film stills covers the period from the beginnings of Hungarian cinema to 1947 and includes early films of world famous directors such as Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz.
Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum: Poster Collection
Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum contributes aprox. 1,200 film posters, which provide an overview of the Hungarian poster art from the beginnings of Hungarian cinema in 1900 to the 1990s.
Národní filmový archiv: Documentary and Feature Films
The National Czech Film Archive makes eight feature films from the Czech silent film era from 1898 to 1920 available via EFG. An overview of the history of the Czech documentary film provides the collection “Czech Documentary Films”. Up to 200 films from 1898 to 1928 can be viewed on EFG.
Nasjonalbiblioteket: Selected Films
For EFG the Nasjonalbiblioteket gives access to a selection of approx. 350 film works, many of them representing Norwegian cinema from 1900 to 1935. The collection also includes historic advertising films from the 1920s to the 1950s as well as documentary films about Oslo.
Not every film included on the EFG falls into one of these collections (for example, the coy early sex films of Austrian production company Saturn), and as is so often the case with these sorts of resources it helps if you know what you are looking for is going to be there somewhere, because the searching tools don’t always help you completely. But it must be pointed out that the EFG is in a beta phase, with plenty of bugs let to be ironed out. Better functionality, and more content (including some arriving in August) are promised.
The EFG is essentially a feeder site for the European digital library concept, Europeana, previously written about on the Bioscope. There the films and film-related content will be searchable alongside many other kinds of digital objects (the EFG content does not appear to be on Europeana as yet). The EFG has a sister project, EU Screen, which is doing the same job for European television content (no UK content again – are we trying to tell them something?).
The European Film Gateway represents only a tiny fraction of European moving image content, digital or otherwise, and no one can say how it will develop. But it has established a structure for encompassing moving image data from very varied film archive catalogues, through which they hope to be able to point to more and more content, if more archives will take up its all to contribute. And Europeana will certainly continue, gradually biding its time, persuading more and more libraries and archives that it is their European duty to supply ever more content to the giant digital soup. Lucky us.
There is, by the way, a separate European Film Gateway project site, which has more background information on the project itself.