The National Film Archive was created in 1943 as part of the regulatory authority of the Protectorate cinematography, Czech and Moravian Film Centre. Its headquarters were on the sixth floor of Lucerna Palace in Vodičkova street in Prague. By a curious paradox, the efforts of many enthusiasts emphasizing the importance of such an institution for Czech culture since the 1920s only succeeded in the period of Nazi occupation.
The first officially appointed director of the Film Archive was a German, Walter Gottfried Lohmayer. However, the author of the modern conception of this memory institution and key personality of Czech film archiving was an internationally recognized specialist in film technology, Jindřich Brichta. As the deputy director he strove to establish an organization that would make it possible to preserve and subsequently study cinema in all its complexity. The Film Archive comprised a department of written documents, a research section, and a library. As a result of the rapid expansion of the collections with diverse materials endangered by war operations the capacity of the modest premises in Lucerna soon became insufficient. A large number of film prints and negatives was provisionally stored in a greenhouse in Kinsky Garden situated in the Prague district of Smíchov.
After the nationalization of the Czechoslovak film industry by Decree of the President of the Republic No. 50/1945 Coll. the Film Archive was incorporated into the newly created Czechoslovak Film Institute (CSFI) in late 1945. It was admitted to the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) a year later, as its fifth to ninth member. The CSFI was abolished at the beginning of the 1950s. During the subsequent rash reorganizations of the Czechoslovak State Film (CSF) the Film Archive and its departments were merged into various unsystematically created organisations and departments. It could only fulfil its mission in part. In fact, its rare film collections were gradually turned into a warehouse of discarded films. A period of several years’ provisional existence was ended in 1963, when the CSFI was recreated. Together with the documentation and the library the Film Archive became part of its documentation section.
When Bohumil Brejcha took up the post of the archive director in the mid-1960s a process of transformation of what had been largely a ‘collector-oriented’ establishment began. The institution’s activities were to be based on scientific working methods and professional management. A case in point was the creation of a technical department. The tasks assigned to its staff included sorting and storing materials on flammable and safe stock separately, shredding multiple copies, and, using the latest methods, organizing and protecting film collections. In many cases they had been stored in ill-chosen places, such as former restaurants, brickworks, garages, and the cellars of the medieval Kost castle. The aim of the new management was to properly index the stored materials to eliminate the fragmentation and incompleteness of descriptive information.
The internal organization of the CSFI was changed towards the end of 1968. When the documentation section was closed down the Film Archive was again separated from the documentation and library. In the context of security screenings and the coming ‘normalization’ the archive was branded as the rightists’ centre and isolated from international contacts for ten years. In 1975 the CSFI became independent of its regulatory authority of many years standing, the Central Directorate of CSF. The Film Institute thus became an independent economic unit and, at the same time, it acquired legal status. The Film Archive functioned under its umbrella until the end of the 1980s.
Despite a number of discriminatory measures adopted during the two normalization decades the staff of the Film Archive succeeded in bringing the identification and cataloguing work up to a high standard. They initiated new restoration techniques, methods for eradicating mould and mildew damage, and techniques for print toning. General cataloguing of the collections was completed, old collections were reconstructed without outside help and new vaults were built. Other development plans were only carried out after the fall of the communist regime. For example, a new storage facility was built in the early 1990s during the first stage of building a film archive complex for black-and-white negatives and written records in the municipality Hradištko near Prague.
In 1990 the CSFI was renamed Czech Film Institute (CFI). Shortly afterwards the importance of the Film Archive was appreciated by the then Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, Jindřich Kabát. By his decision the state economic organization CFU was changed as of 1 July 1992 to a state grant-aided organization named National Film Archive (NFA). The Act No. 273/1993 Coll. of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic symbolically linked the NFA with the most important national institutions preserving our cultural heritage.
Establishing the NFA was perceived as a definitive break with the past and it resulted in a simplification of the institution’s management, reordering the priorities, and bolstering activities that had been neglected until then and doing away with ineffective ones. Regular yearly acquisitions much in excess of the quantity of the film and written records were transferred to the NFA, such as materials of the former corporate archive of CSF. From the middle of the 1990s the dominant trend was to extend the scope of the organization’s sphere of activity. The oral history section was created, as well as a restoration workshop and digitalization workshop for written records and posters. Collecting of amateur and family films was started, as were audio-visual (video) recordings and video art works, and contemporary film documentation was procured. Publication of catalogues Czech Feature Film I-VI (1898-1993) and Czech Animated Film I (1920-1945) was started in Czech and English, as well as a bilingual Film Yearbook and the magazine Filmový přehled. A course of study, ‘Restoration of Classic Film Materials’ was started in the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU).
The NFA joined a number of national and international programmes, including Kramerius, Collection of Censorship Documents (COLLATE), Moving Image Database for Access and Re-use of European Film Collections (MIDAS), and The European Film Gateway (EFG). The portfolio of its services was again expanded in 2013 when the offices of the Czech Film Centre, Czech Film Commission and Media Desk were incorporated into the enterprise.
Being one of the oldest and in terms of the scope of its collections biggest institutions of this type the NFA has received several awards for its activities, for example a silver plaque from the festival of silent films Le Giornate del Cinema Muto and Picasso’s and Miró’s commemorative medal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO.
Significant dates in the history of the National Film Archive
1943: Film Archive founded by the Czech and Moravian Film Centre.
1945: Passing of Decree of the President of the Republic No. 50/1945 Coll. on measures [to be adopted] in the area of film, and subsequent incorporation of the Film Archive into the newly established Czechoslovak Film Institute (CSFI).
1946: Film Archive becomes a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF).
1949: Film Archive is part of the section ‘Schools and Collections’ and later the Press and Archive Department of the central directorate of the CSF.
1953: Film Archive is briefly part of the Ministry of the Interior.
1954: Film Archive is again part of the section ‘Schools and Collections’; soon it is transferred under the Film Distribution Directorate.
1957: The Film Archive is part of the Economic Department of the Central Film Distributors.
1958: 14th FIAF congress is held in Prague.
1963: The Film Archive becomes, together with the documentation and library, part of the documentation section of the re-established CSFI.
1965: Started copying films with flammable nitrocellulose base to safe stock.
1966: Technical Department of the Film Archive is set up.
1968: 1st international seminar on identification of films in Gottwaldov organized in association with FIAF; after abolition of the documentation section of reorganized CSFI the Film Archive is separated from the documentation and library.
1969-1974: Start of general cataloguing and preservation of film collections.
1969: First reconstruction of the film Saint Wenceslas (1929, directed by Jan Stanislav Kolár).
1972-1976: Research into bacteria and moulds attacking film materials started in association with Film Laboratories Barrandov and the Faculty of Science of Charles University in Prague starts
1975: CSFI becomes an independent economic unit and acquires legal status.
1977-1979: New vaults were built by staff themselves on a voluntary basis.
1977: Eradicating mould or mildew damage from first films at Film Laboratories Barrandov.
1979-1989: Further research into bacteria and moulds and effects of external environment on their presence in vaults, research in the Vietnam Film Archive, eradicating mould or mildew damage from films in the Bulgarian National Film Library.
1979: Developed a method of tinting reconstructed film prints in association with the Research Institute for Audio, Visual and Reproduction Technologies in Prague.
1980: 36th FIAF congress is held in Karlovy Vary.
1981-1985: Reconstruction of old vaults for a highly flammable nitrate films by staff on a voluntary basis.
1989: Started publication of a journal for film theory, history and aesthetics Illuminace.
1990: CSFI reorganised and renamed as Czech Film Institute (CFI).
1991: New vaults for black-and-white negatives and written records in Hradištko near Prague.
1.7.1992: Transformation of CFI into National Film Archive (NFA); in the same year start of restoration of film posters and glass photographic plates.
1993: Discontinuation of publishing department, information centre and production department; start of publishing Film Yearbook and Film Overview, new plastic boxes for film materials developed.
1995: Based on a concept of PhDr. Eva Strusková an oral history section is created; copying film materials on polyester base; publication of the first instalment in the series Czech Feature Film I (1898-1930).
1996: NFA is joint founder of the International Federation of Film Archives (ACE); creation of restoration workshops for written records and posters; started collection of amateur filmmakers; opening of archive cinema in Bio Ponrepo and a library in Prague’s Konvikt building in Bartolomějská street.
1997: Digital laboratory for written records, posters and photos established.
1998: 54th FIAF Congress held in Prague; publication of Czech Feature Film II (1930-1945).
2000-2003: Participation in Collection of Censorship Documents – COLLATE project.
2001: Collection of documentary films from 1945-1990 received from Krátký film Praha, a.s; publication of Czech Feature Film III (1945-1960).
2004: Started collecting video art works; publication of Czech Feature Film IV (1961-1970).
2005: Collaboration on Moving Image Database for Access and Re-use of European Film Collections – MIDAS project.
2007: Received and sorted film materials from the former Film Studio Gottwaldov; publication of Czech Feature Film V (1970-1980).
2008: Participation in The European Film Gateway (EFG) project.
2010: Publication of Czech Feature Film VI (1981-1993).
2012: Publication of Czech Animated Film I (1920-1945).
2013: Act No. 496/2012 Coll. on Audio Visual Works and Support for Cinematography, amending some laws, comes into force, extending the definition of the Archive’s mission; a new foundation charter is issued by decision of the Minister of Culture Ms Alena Hanáková, the NFA incorporates the office of the Czech Film Centre, Czech Film Commission and Media Desk.
2014: State Cinematography Fund granted the NFA a licence to use Czechoslovak films made in 1965-1991 so that it can grant sublicenses to those interested in the use of films.