The government of Israel gets off easy when it comes to preserving the moving image of the history of Israel. The government does not own or run the film archive. Instead, most of the responsibility and work of the acquisition, preservation and cataloguing of the Israeli film heritage is handled by a private non-profit organization, the Israel Film Archive – a sub-division of the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Years ago, before anyone in Israel realized the importance of holding onto a film negative or a clean and unscratched print of a film, Lia van Leer took her own personal film collection and transformed it into an official archive. Her archive immediately became a member in the FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives) where discussions included issues such as temperature control, preservation of nitrate film, and the correct balance between preserving a film and making sure that it isn't only placed on the shelf for posterity but also seen by discerning audiences.
Negatives of Israeli feature films were deposited with this new archive, as local film producers were happy to have someone else pay for the correct storage conditions of their materials. At the same time, Lia understood the importance of making sure that the films would be kept "alive" and continually screened, which explains the important symbiotic relationship between the screenings and the archiving at the Jerusalem Cinematheque – Israel Film Archive.
Just this week, Ha'aretz (July 22, 2008) reported that the Israel Film Council has decided to cut the amount of public support for the Israel Film Archive by 40%. The irony here is that most of the NIS 2.5 million budget of the archive is not received from government sources, but rather from private donations and foundations. In other words, the government of Israel has been paying very little towards the preservation of this important historical collection. Honestly, the government should be increasing its funding!
During the more than 15 years that I worked at the Jerusalem Cinematheque – Israel Film Archive, enormous efforts and private monies were invested in preservation projects, some in cooperation with other archives around the world. Nitrate films were transferred to safety stock so that they would not be lost forever. Every shot was catalogued in the historically important Carmel Newsreels produced by Nathan Axelrod from the 1930s to the 1950s. But none of this was enough!
The Israel Film Archive requires a growing budget that would provide for an active program of preserving an increasing number of films each year. The expanded vaults in the new wing of the Jerusalem Cinematheque need to be outfitted, temperature controlled, etc. In addition, there should be a regular program of digitization of the historical documentary and newsreel materials, in order to provide for greater accessibility. But instead the Israel Film Council is cutting the budget!! When will the government face its responsibilities in this area?