European Commission reported that 85% of 1.03 million hours of European film heritage is out-of-commerce, and hence not accessible. While 98.5% is still not digitised, but currently locked away in cans in the archives. European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes alerted: "It is ridiculous that our film heritage is invisible in the 21st century. Culture is the heart of Europe, and film is at the heart of culture "
The report found most European film heritage institutions (around 100 in EU) have not yet adapted to the digital revolution and are not yet able to preserve film digitally: “Some of current films are being lost to future generations forever, just like those of the silent era, where only 10% survived. At the same time films of the early digital era – because of formatting and interoperability issues – also risk being lost forever.”
Key recent study „Challenges of the Digital Era for Film Heritage Institutions“ reported: „We are at risk of loosing all films produced until now, plus all those produced from now on.“ While estimated total costs of digitising Europe’s entire culture heritage in the Report of the “Comité des Sages” might exceed 100 billion Euros, hereof almost 24 million of audiovisual heritage might costs around 5 billions.
Unfortunately situation in central European countries (Czech Rep., Slovakia, Poland, Hungary) is getting even more urgent. Altough western or northern European cinemas being converted to digital, number of digital screens in post-communist countries are quite low so far. And number of penetration rates in Visegrad countries differs e.g. in Poland in comparison to Czech rep. But the main problem is lack of the audiovisual content for these digital theatres. All central European cinematographic masterpieces available in previous years here are now getting disappear for audience since 35mm was replaced by digital as the main format in cinemas. On the other hand Slovakia has no film laboratory for traditional film preservation and restoration while Czech Rep. has two excellent labs in Zlin and Prague. But almost hundred films were digitised in Slovakia or Poland for digital theatres until now, while only three feature films in Czech Rep. athough the country has largest film collection. Al Visegrad countries prepared priority lists composed of different feature, documentary or animated films for priority digitization that vary from 100 to 1000 titles. Hungary or Poland established national digital archives and provides access for hundreds of films via web for schools, since no such project exists in Czech Rep. Polish film archive has own in-house film scanners whereas Czech film archive should to outsource it in private studios and Slovakia is waiting to purchase digital scanner soon. While no master university program in film heritage digitization exists in Visegrad countries until now! Anyhow five-year research project focused on methodology of Czech film heritage digitization intents on preserving authentic look of the original film print from the time of first theatrical release in relation to the final product of cinematographic work digital restoration for cinemas has been opened at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague this year. If we need to improve availability of Visegrad films, to safe and make available hundreds of films in quite short time, we need to learn by ourselves through networking, because our Central European region has similar history, problems and experiences. If we miss it, we lose not only art cinema, but also films that are preserving our history, culture and society which keep our memory alive.
That is why the matter of the research project is a comparative study of workflow models and principles of digitisation, restoration, preservation and making access to audiovisual heritage in Central European countries to share best practice that should reduce costs, safe time and develop new strategies. The study will be published and presented by the experts from Visegrad countries in conference including screenings of digitally restored Central European films (Spring 2014). It takes into different aspects into consideration, not only technical point of views, but also curatorship, economical and copyright. Another objective of the project is promote Visegrad film heritage itself among others by development of Digital Cinemad on Demand (DCoD) using non-dedicated digital cinema package players to enable smaller museums, schools or festivals screen cinematographic works in native quality. Or updating the list of digitized and restored Central European films available for digital cinema.