Over the past year at VIAA we’ve been working on a special film collection from the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as ‘the White Fathers’. It’s the only audiovisual collection on the List of Flemish Masterpieces, and it consists of more than 750 film reels showing the history of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi from the 1940s to 1960s through the eyes of missionaries. In order to safeguard the continued existence of this unique film heritage, we teamed up with KADOC and Cinematek in a process of registration, restoration and digitisation.
Last summer we published a tender dossier for digitisation companies to submit their offers. We then assessed these submissions together with a professional jury – consisting of employees from KADOC, Cinematek and an external consultant – and went on site visits to gain insights into their complete digitisation processes, which we were able to investigate using two test films. Following this extensive study, we ultimately chose R3store Studios as our partner for digitising the film and audio reels. The collection from the White Fathers consists of old and delicate objects which need to be treated with the utmost care. This British company has previous experience with delicate films that have been affected by vinegar syndrome.
In mid-October, we temporarily shipped 201 film reels to London – with the necessary permission from the Flemish government for transporting such Masterpieces – where they will remain until June 2020 for digitisation. You may well ask: but what about Brexit? This is unpredictable, of course, but we took as much advice as possible from the Department for Culture, customs organisations and the Cultuurloket (Flemish organisation which provides professional support for the cultural sector). The issue was also discussed with our relevant partners and the transport company responsible for shipping the films to the United Kingdom and then bringing them back again. Once digitised, we will carefully store and preserve the image and audio files in our VIAA archive system.