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Three years ago, Jerusalem Cinematheque set out a plan to preserve more than 30,000 Israeli films within its archive. Today it continues with 'Siege'.

Jerusalem Cinematheque restoring film archive, ‘Siege’

Three years ago, Jerusalem Cinematheque set out a plan to restore and preserve more than 30,000 Israeli films within its archive. Today the immense project continues, as the company prepares to showcase Gilberto Tofano’s 1969 debut feature Siege at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

The plan was the brainchild of Noa Regev, executive director of Cinematheque since 2014. Regev’s “first impulse” upon taking the top spot, she revealed, was to “set about saving all these movies” from being lost to history forever.

Cinematheque’s laudable goal was met with some scepticism, and it’s not hard to see why. The company had originally proposed to restore Siege more than three years ago, but met many difficulties along the way. The biggest problem was the financial cost: at least €22,000 to restore each feature. (Yikes!)

However, the team continued onwards and kept it in the back of their minds, says Meir Russo, the festival’s archive manager, who calls Siege an incredibly “unique film”. Regev agrees: “Siege should receive much more attention in Israeli culture. It was one of the first films to deal with war and mourning from a female perspective.”

The restoration process sat on the backburner until February 2017, when the master negative for the film was finally shipped to Cinelab Romania in Bucharest, where it was scanned into digital 4K before being sent back to Israel for restoration at post-production house Opus Productions. Individual reels having to be sent back and forth across the world are just one of many restoration costs in such a project.

That’s the crux of this story, but it’s a bigger one than Siege alone: the more than 30,000 films housed within Cinematheque’s Israel Film Archive is so large it will take at least five to seven years for the entirety of it to be digitized. Regev claims it houses “95% of all Israeli fiction and documentary films”.

The plan has been bolstered heavily by Cinematheque’s recent acquisition of digitization technology, establishing the organization as the first Israeli lab perhaps able to perform the complex procedure entirely in-house.

Cinematheque’s aim is worthy of commendation; its archive is a treasure hoard on the grandest scale, consisting of such items as the Lumiere Brothers’ 1896 film Leaving Jerusalem By Railway, along with a collection of historical newsreels. The archival team are quick to admit they haven’t catalogued the entire collection, a claim proven by the recent discovery of long-buried behind-the-scenes footage from the production of Siege itself, which they have since restored and are set to showcase alongside the film during its screening at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

The restoration process for Siege, set to screen as part of the Jerusalem Film Festival on July 19, was supported by United Kingdom Films and the Rabinovich Foundation. The screening will be attended by cinematographer David Gurfinkel (Over The Top), who worked on the original and oversaw part of the restoration work.


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