One of the largest film collections in Europe, complete with library, archives, three theatres and six or seven screenings daily. No wonder the man responsible for all that, Nicola Mazzanti, is uneasy.
“It’s better to be the last than the first”, he says, referring to the new and unknown challenges of digital film preservation; “and in Belgium, we’re at the avant garde of problems!” Of the 70,000 individual titles, some are holding up well, but some are in dire need of conservation, and staff can only restore about 100 of those a year. Amongst these titles can be found most, if not all, of Belgian film history and elements of US and international film history that are unique, spanning the period from 1896 to the present.
It falls to Nicola to ensure that the vast collection is accessible to the public, and in Cinematek’s bewildering offering contemporary, experimental and classics are all catered for. This Summer you can catch popular French cinema from the 1960s, lesser known Danish cinema and a scattering of films starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Silent films have featured ever since Cinematek was founded in 1938; and these are always accompanied by a live pianist. There are also plans to screen films to orchestral accompaniment. Be warned that films are always shown in the original language with subtitles in French and Dutch! In between all of these screenings, researchers and enthusiasts can visit the reference library to seek out some obscure title, book or poster – consult the online
catalogue or email the staff in advance so they can check they have it and can extract it for you.
As for me, watching puzzling films in the Cinematek will be all the more appealing now I know about the mysterious strip-lit bunker, where miles upon miles of films are coiled up waiting in drums. 140,000 of them is something like the correct figure, including feature films each around 3000 metres long. “It’s a resource management problem”, sighs Nicola. Films are unstable and need to be stored somewhere cold and dry; “which is not easy, because cold is usually not dry.”
Baron Hortastraat 9, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
+32(0)2 551 19 19
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