Cinemateca Digital Portuguesa

The Cinemateca Digital Portuguesa is a collection maintained by the Arquivo Nacional das Imagens in Movement (ANIM), which is based in Bucelas, a small town about 30 kms north of Lisbon.

The Cinemateca Digital was set up through the European Gateway Project and only began in 2011. It was initially restricted to non-fiction films produced in Portugal between the years 1896 and 1931. But it is continually being added to and, according to its website, currently offers on-line access to over 500 films. The current holding of films can be accessed here.

However, only a very small proportion of these are films that were shot in the Portuguese colonies and an even smaller proportion are concerned centrally with local indigenous customary life.

Text : De Rosa 2018

EYE Film Museum, Amsterdam

The EYE Film Museum is the Dutch national cinema museum. It opened in 2012, in effect incorporating a number of earlier film museums or film collections. The latter include a collection of films shot in the Dutch East Indies, both by the government and other secular organisations, and by missionary organisations.

There are currently about 40 films in their Dutch East Indies data base (though this is due to be expanded in the future). Many of these films are about the usual topics of colonial films: ports, roads, railways, industrial activities, agriculture, general portraits of the major cities. But there are also about a dozen films of some ethnographic interest, most of which can be viewed on-line. For further details, see here.



Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

The Pitt Rivers Museum has a small but valuable collection of early ethnographic film material, much of which has been digitised. Most of the collection consists not of fully edited films as such, but rather of assemblies of footage shot by anthropologists, travellers, colonial officers and like, and these are of variable levels of technical quality and competence.

However, the collection includes a number of works of great ethnographic and/or historical interest, such as the footage shot by Auguste François, French Consul in Kunming, 1901-1904, generally regarded as the first moving images shot in China. It also includes the footage of Beatrice Blackwood and Ursula Graham Bower, which although only very brief, represent two of the earliest examples of ethnographic film footage both shot and directed by women.

The current listing of digitised films in the collection is available here.

Cineteca di Bologna

The Cineteca di Bologna holds an comprehensive collection of the works produced by filmmakers working in association with Ernesto De Martino’s ethnographic studes in the south of Italy in the 1950s. These can be accessed through here.

A number of these works are also now available on YouTube.

IWF Wissen und Medien/ TIB

A significant number of early ethnographic films were included in the catalogue of the now-defunct Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film (IWF, latterly known as IWF Wissen und Medien), based in Göttingen. The IWF collection covered a broad range of different academic fields, including ‘Ethnology’. A large proportion of the films in the Ethnology category concerned European folk customs, but it also included many films about traditional customary practices that had been shot outside Europe.

Some of these films were produced by the IWF itself, whilst others were acquired from third parties. Some of the latter took the form of specialised sub-collections, such as the Chinese Historical Film Series, which brought together a series of films made by Chinese film-makers in the 1950s and 1960s.

When the IWF closed down in 2015, its collection of films was transferred into the care of the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB) in Hanover. Here, subject to rights clearances, it is being gradually made available on-line through the TIB AV-portal.  In the interim, it is possible to order many of these films in the form of DVDs or go to Hanover in person and watch the films there. For further details see here.

The background to the IWF collection and the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica

The organisation that would eventually be named the IWF in 1956 was set up in the period immediately following the Second World War. Its film collection was initially based on the films gathered together by the Reichsanstalt für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (RWU), a similar pre-war institution that had acted as a national repository of films made for educational or academic research purposes in Germany since the beginning of the century. A number of the early ethnographic films that are currently available through the TIB portal in fact come from the RWU collection. See here for further details.

In addition to curating the RWU films, the IWF soon began to produce new films as part of its so-called Encyclopaedia Cinematographica (EC), which was initiated in 1952. At first, this was confined to Germany, but later, associated collections were established in a number of other countries, notably in Austria, but also in the Netherlands, the US and Japan.

Films that were ‘published’ by the EC had to conform to a strict set of methodological rules designed to ensure that they were as scientifically objective as possible. The general aim was to produce data, not cinematic narratives. As applied to the making of ethnographic films, the EC methodology encouraged the production of short ‘monothematic’ films that followed processes, cultural as well as technical.

In the hope of ensuring objectivity, the rules required that there should be no interference in the process filmed, nor any changes of chronology at the editing stage. If synchronous sound was not possible for technical reasons (which was usually the case in remote locations until the late 1960s), the films should be silent: soundtracks based on non-synchronous ‘wild’ sounds or library effects were not permissible. Nor should there be any voice-over commentary. Instead, all necessary explanation and contextualisation should be provided in the form of an accompanying written text.

The ultimate goal was to build up an account of a given society by the multiple aggregation of such short process films. They could also be used individually to make comparisons between societies: thus pottery-making in one Amazonian indigenous group could be compared to pottery-making in another, or even to pottery-making in Africa or Europe.

The overall effect of these principles was to encourage a preponderant focus on topics that lent themselves well to the particular underlying methodology: that is, technical processes, subsistence activities, the performance of particular dances (but not a whole ceremonial event). Aspects of social life that were less obviously processual, for example, the emotional tone of interpersonal relationships, were simply not covered.

In the early days, before any film could be ‘published’ in the EC, it had to be personally approved by the then director of the IWF, Gotthard Wolf. He was reputed to interpret the methodology very strictly and would request changes if he felt that a particular film did not conform sufficiently to the principles underlying the collection.

But after Wolf retired in 1975, the interpretation of the rules became more flexible so that by the late 1980s, the IWF was producing ethnographic films that in methodological terms were largely indistinguishable from those then being produced by other ethnographic film-makers in Europe and North America. (For an accessible discussion of the history of the IWF, see Husmann 2007)

One of the most prolific contributors of ethnographic films to the EC was the Brazilian film-maker Harald Schultz (1909-1966). The TIB holds 67 short films by Schultz made between 1944 and 1965. However,  none of these are yet available through the TIB portal.

Filmarchiv Austria

The central Austrian film archive is located at Laxenburg, about a 30-minute bus ride from Vienna central train station. However, DVD copies of films held in the archive can be viewed at the study centre in central Vienna at: Obere Augartenstrasse 1, 1020 Wien/Austria, Tel: 012161300245.

Archive films, including certain works of the early ethnographic film-maker, Rudolf Pöch, are also available on the site of the Österreichische Mediatek here.

Cinemateca Brasileira, São Paulo

This is the Brazilian national film archive, dedicated to the conservation of master copies of films of all kinds. It holds copies on DVD or videotape of a number of early films of ethnographic interest by Luiz Thomas Reis, Silvino Santos, Heinz Forthmann, Darcy Ribeiro and others, but the original materials of at least some of these appear to have been destroyed in a large fire in 1982.

In addition to an on-line data base of its current holdings, the Cinemateca also offers a comprehensive on-line data base of Brazilian films generally, including early ethnographic films that appear to have been definitively lost. This may be accessed here.

Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia (MAE), Universidade de São Paulo (USP)

Visitors to the MAE can be provided with on-line access to the  large collection of short films made by the German-Brazilian anthropologist Harald Schultz across Brazilian Amazonia in the period 1944-1965. Details of these can be accessed via the search engine of the MAE’s research collection catalogue here.

With the exception of his first two films, which he made whilst he was working with the Serviço de Proteção aos Índios (SPI), Schultz shot his films after he became a member of the research staff of the Museu Paulista in 1947. All his films, even the first two, were later ‘published’, i.e. produced and released, by the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica, of the Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film (IWF) in Göttingen, Germany. However, copies of these films were retained in São Paulo and when the Museu Paulista transferred its ethnographic collection to the MAE, these copies of Schultz’s films were transferred too. 

When the IWF closed down in 2015, the master copies of the Encyclopaedia Cinematographica were transferred to the TIB, the German National Library. Details of Schultz’s films held by the TIB are available here.

© 2018 Paul Henley