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EYE on film heritage

Emily Munro from the Scottish Screen Archive (National Library of Scotland) took advantage of a weekend getaway to Amsterdam to visit EYE Film Institute and find out why it has so quickly gained an international reputation. EYE’s Head of Education, Florine Wiebenga, showed her around.

Away from the cobbled streets, leaning buildings and canals the EYE sits on the IJ harbour like a spaceship ready to transport incomers to another galaxy.

The concept behind the angular building is to reflect common elements between film and architecture – new ways of seeing and experiencing reality, light, space and movement.

Inside, EYE offers exhibition spaces, a cafe-restaurant, an education suite and four cinemas. Each cinema has been designed for a specific screening purpose – a standard 315-seat auditorium is complemented by a multipurpose space created for screening experimental and interactive work, there is a black box (inspired by Peter Kubelka’s concept of ‘Invisible Cinema’) and an Art Deco style cinema complete with pianola that is well suited for education work and showing archive material. 

EYE was hosting a temporary exhibition of South African artist William Kentridge’s films which included two massive eight-screen projection installations, one of which had been commissioned by EYE. The installations are breathtaking. I found myself impressed with the foresight to ensure the exhibition spaces were wide enough, high enough and dark enough to accommodate such monumental pieces of work. 

At EYE young people work with the exhibition team to create spectacular opening nights for the temporary exhibits as part of a project called Exposed. The Exposed team is given free rein and a generous budget to take over EYE for one night. The aim is to create dynamic events that will appeal to a younger demographic as well as please EYE’s patrons and funders. Take a look at this short ‘after-movie’ to see how they approached the Kentridge exhibition.

Equally impressive is the Studio, a bespoke learning space built to accommodate creative workshops for school groups. The Studio features specially designed furniture that can be reconfigured as a stage and a theatre-style rig that allows the room to be divided or for lights to be mounted for filming. There are seven full time education staff at EYE but as Florine explained to me they are required to run a programme across the Netherlands and not just at EYE. For that reason EYE also employs a pool of freelance filmmakers to facilitate school workshops.

Elements of film heritage are visible in the Studio; strips of film demonstrating the different film gauges are displayed alongside old projection equipment and cine cameras. The very contemporary facilities are a far cry from the popular image of the dusty archive. As in other European countries that have woken up to the importance and potential popularity of film heritage, the Netherlands is now investing in improving the facilities that will enable people to discover the national film collections. EYE works successfully to connect new technologies with film heritage in its permanent exhibition areas which allow people to find out about the story of film-making and the scope of the Dutch film collections in fully interactive ways.

The Panorama gallery includes viewing pods for watching films, an exhibition about the cinematic apparatus from optical toys to mobile phones, and a green-screen interactive that allows you to insert yourself in a Melies fantasy moon-scape or an early twentieth century Dutch street scene. The 360 gallery consists of film projections on all four walls with interactive consoles that allow you to project a film clip of your choice from the collections.

EYE does not have archive film vaults and preservation staff working on site but soon there will be new film stores located ten minutes away. In the meantime, researchers are catered for on site through the Netherland’s largest dedicated film library. Of course, given the Netherland’s long-standing investment in cinema for children, it comes as no surprise to see that youngsters are directly addressed through the Eye Walk, a video-tour that augments the reality of the EYE visitor experience using characters from the movies. 

It’s hard not to come away from EYE wishing we had something comparable in Scotland. However, I’m optimistic about the status of film and film heritage in our little country. Next year the Scottish Screen Archive moves to new facilities at Kelvin Hall and we are already starting to realise the potential for exciting partnerships and opportunities, the likes of which Scotland’s film collection has never seen before. I’m looking forward to inviting Florine and her team over for koffie.

Follow the Scottish Screen Archive on Twitter @scotsonscreen

29 May 2015

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