VRT’s own films: 53,221 steps forward

7 Oct 2021

The VRT archive is a real treasure trove full of gems. Did you know that the public broadcaster owns a substantial collection of its own films, produced between 1953 and the mid-1980s? We recently completed the technical registration of all these film and associated audio spools. Quite a milestone!

VRT has 53,221 of its own films in total. So this was a huge job! Registering all this unique content started a decade ago, but only really got off the ground a few years later. The painstaking work was carried out by an employee from VRT, with support from meemoo.

Its completion marks a big milestone in preserving the public broadcaster’s film collection. Now, for the first time, we finally have a complete overview of this monumental archive, which not only improves how we can manage the content, but also ensures that further preservation can be planned better in future. Meemoo will look into digitising the collection at a later stage.

What's in a name?

Technical registration: the name says it all. The most important technical characteristics of each film object were registered in a database during this process. And on our request, we made sure it was done in a way to match the data registered in our CINEMATEK film project – to greatly simplify how digitisation selections are made.

At the same time, we also made sure the spools were marked with a barcode and given a new jacket – replacing the shiny tins with a robust, plastic casing to ensure they can continue to be preserved safely for many more years to come. The image and audio spools were also separated from each other, and we took targeted vinegar measurements (link in Dutch) to detect any affected films. The affected copies that we found are being prioritised for digitisation and included in our digitisation project for affected films.

In this short video (link in Dutch), Kathleen Bertrem from the VRT archive explains how they registered everything in the film cellar.

What now?

Now that the technical aspect of the project is complete, it’s time to register all the content. This will make the film collection more searchable than ever before, so it will be easier to prioritise certain types of content when selecting unaffected films in future. We’re aiming to start this digitisation process from 2024.

The database of film objects is currently being linked to film descriptions originating from paper index cards. The scanned data was initially converted into editable text using optical character recognition (OCR) and then improved further by hand.

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