On Monday 11 January a document entitled “Filmmakers call on the prime minister and government to remove the general director of the NFA” appeared on the website of the Czech Film and Television Union. In reality the letter contained the signatures of 13 directors and seven other film professionals, for the most part cameramen. The National Film Archive could of course launch a signature counter-campaign defending both the professional approach of its staff with regard to digital restoration and the general director. Instead it will perhaps suffice to demonstrate how at least one of the signatures on the “petition” was obtained; a letter from director Vojtěch Jasný, who withdrew his signature as he had been prevailed upon to provide it in undignified circumstances, attests to this. The document can be found here. Vojtěch Jasný issued a repeat public statement on Wednesday here. Alongside Vojtěch Jasný another of the undersigned, director Drahomíra Vihanová, made a similar pronouncement: “I did not sign a document that would include or should lead to the dismissal of the director of the NFA, Michal Bregant.”
The published document attacks director Bregant and de facto all of the NFA’s employees using irrational argumentation and insults. The suggestion that the letter represented the filmmaking community was rejected by numerous filmmakers while subsequent reactions at the institutional and personal levels have attested to the considerable support enjoyed by director Bregant and the entire NFA among the professional community. In the following days, many Czech film-makers, film professionals and institutions supported NFA and its director. Film-maker and teacher Vít Janeček wrote an article for online daily Referendum, that can be found here. Film-maker Petr Václav wrote an article published in daily Lidové noviny.
The letter is misleading with regard to the techniques by which the NFA digitises and digitally restores films. Films digitally restored under the NFA’s supervision originate in the highest possible quality, with the aim of restoration being to achieve a version that corresponds as much as possible to the version presented in cinemas at the time of release. The NFA is carrying out the digitisation of Czech films in accordance with other archives in Europe and the results of its work have frequently been very highly rated, including at international festivals. The NFA digitally restores films (i.e., it creates digital versions of them corresponding to their original form). It does not remaster them (the creation of a new, altered or “improved” version). Both approaches are legitimate but the NFA only has a mandate to carry out restoration. This is based on its staff’s mission and expertise.
In order for the NFA to conduct high-quality digital restoration it requires reference material according to which that restoration is carried out. This is a carefully selected, if possible period, copy. The restorers are fully aware of the manner in which a film copy relates to how the film was presented at the time it premiered; they take into account the aging of the film stock and at the same time select a copy on the basis of verified historical information on the form and conditions of the premiere screening. Restoration is therefore preceded by thorough historical research during which archivists assess the physical condition of the material and historians explore other factors, including the technology used in the production and screening of the film, on the basis of preserved sources and interviews with those involved. Research then determines a reference copy according to which the restoration is done exclusively. The NFA also consults the makers of restored pictures, though it does not accede to calls for possible improvements and therefore remastering. The entire restoration process is carried out according to international rules and ethical standards.
The published letter also contains a xenophobic undertone characteristic of several previous pronouncements from the group of cameramen, who have condemned a laboratory that carries out professional work under the supervision of the NFA’s picture and sound restorers and technicians, simply on the grounds that it is located in another country geographically. Magyar Filmlabór is a prestigious European laboratory that won a legitimate international competition in accordance with the law on public procurement and is a condition of the grant under which digital restoration is financed.
The subject of a project by cameramen within the NAKI programme (of applied research and development of national and cultural identity) has been debated and closed; a pertinent contract has been signed between the Academy of Performing Arts and the NFA under which the NFA provides services to researchers; however, the content of this project does not concern the NFA professionally.
Provincial wars of this type, in which one interest group systematically attacks a key institution of Czech cinematography, what’s more by calling into question its considerable international renown by employing wilfully selected facts and smears beyond the realm of acceptable debate, harm not only the NFA but the entire film community.