Deutsche Version

Background

Nearly 50 years after its founding, the Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art (formerly the Friends of the German Cinematheque) has not only amassed a film collection totaling more than 10,000 titles, it has also become its own archive. In contrast to other film archives, the institution has never had a pre-conceived mission statement for the collection, which the institution would then simply implement according to previously defined criteria. Instead, because of its own curatorial practice, it has been driven by a need to keep the films accessible, so that they could reach a audience in Berlin, in Germany, and in some cases even worldwide. For this reason, the film collection reflects a half century of international film history beyond the commercial sphere, by means of the living history of a Berlin institution that, in its structure, is unique in the world.

"Running a cinema for public screenings is one of the indispensable tasks of a film archive. Of course, there is an old and never ending argument among film archivists over what is more important, to conserve or to exhibit, but no one would seriously propose that organizing regular film screenings is not also one of the essential goals of a cinematheque. Some film archives, such as the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, have even wielded great influence over the film culture of their countries over many year by means of their cycles and retrospectives." (Ulrich Gregor)

Out of this awareness of the importance of screening historical films, the ‘Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek’ was founded in 1963. They took on the task of providing public access to the holdings of the “Deutsche Kinemathek,” also founded the same year, but with initially very limited personnel. Starting in May 1963, the “Freunde” screened films regularly, initially in the Berlin Academy of the Arts. The starting point was one central ideal: the combination of old and new. Even the very first program presented new German short films from the ‘Oberhausen School’ alongside a classic of expressionism, Paul Leni’s WAXWORKS (1924).

The collection developed parallel to the activities of film screenings (initially at the Academy of the Arts, since 1970 in the Arsenal Cinema). It began when a colleague of Lionel Rogosin’s, Jimmy Vaughan from London, one day deposited his film COME BACK AFRICA (1958)–a classic about the politics of Apartheid in South Africa–with the ‘Freunde’ along with the request: “Please do something for the film!”

In the late sixties, short films from Latin American filmmakers, but also, for example, Solanas’s film trilogy THE HOURS OF THE FURNACES were taken into the collection, thus protecting them from the dictatorships at the time in Argentina and Chile. When in 1971 the first International Forum of New Cinema took place, the organizers took as their main task not only bringing together the films for a ten-day event, but also keeping selected, usually subtitled films in Germany, in order to make them as available as possible in commercial and non-commercial contexts.

The stock of films increased annually by about 30-40 Forum films by as yet unknown filmmakers. For many years these films dominated the programs of the so-called kommunale cinemas (non-commercial film clubs) and off-cinemas, for example, films like Herbert Biberman’s SALT OF THE EARTH, the films of Derek Jarman, Ulrike Ottinger, Theo Angelopoulos, Manoel de Oliveira, Andrei Tarkowsky, Nagisa Oshima, Park Kwang-Su, Jonas Mekas, Mrinal Sen, Mani Kaul, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Ousmane Sembène, Alexander Sokurow–the list could go on almost indefinitely. Rivette’s mammoth film OUT1/SPECTRE or documentary film epics like SHOAH by Claude Lanzmann, MANUFACTURING CONSENT by Peter Wintonick and Mike Achbar, films by Marcel Ophuls, Frederick Wiseman, Robert Kramer, Yvonne Rainer, Raymond Depardon were turned into classics of “another cinema” through the work of the ‘Freunde.’ Even today, the Forum selections are no less a part of the films on offer for distribution.

In the 1970s and 1980s, close ties were developed with the New American Cinema and thus to representatives of underground and avant-garde film, due to the work of the Forum at the Berlin International Film Festival as well as in close collaboration with the artists’ program at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). In particular, Alf Bold was active in building up a comprehensive network. He himself spent a great deal of time in North America, finally beginning to build up an extensive collection of experimental films made up of donations from numerous filmmakers, including nearly all the well-known figures in the field such as Bruce Conner, Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, Su Friedrich, Joyce Wieland, Ken Jacobs, Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, all of whom (with the exceptions of Conner, Frampton, and Wieland, who are no longer alive) work closely with the institute on many projects to this day. In addition, the collection holds many jewels by lesser-known filmmakers. On his death in 1994, Bold left the institution an experimental film fund, which allows this work to continue. In 2003 the Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art received the prize in innovation from the BKM for its distribution concept for experimental film and video art, which contains not only offerings for cinemas, but also for exhibitions and other media and cultural contexts.

As a result of this work of many years, the executors of the estate of the queer underground icon Jack Smith consigned his complete film works to the institution in 2008. But other partial collections were also taken in. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Erika and Ulrich Gregor went to great and successful efforts to obtain the film holdings of the Soviet Army, which otherwise would have been destroyed. The institution rescued a private collection, including Hollywood classics in 16mm, which had made up the programs in the kommunale cinemas in Germany for many years, thus having socialized whole generations of filmgoers. In the 1980s more than 100 African films were discovered through the work of the Forum and the Arsenal Cinema; in the 1990s India and Hong Kong took over the cinematic foreground. Most of the films were subtitled or at least provided with German or English text scripts, and found their way into the collection.