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Resurrecting old films from newly digitised content

Scattered in national archives, much of Europes precious cultural heritage lies forgotten or inaccessible. But a new virtual library and research centre on censored early 20th-century films today allows everyone to explore historic film documentation.

From July 2004, the public can freely download or directly access COLLATE. This novel Web-based collaborative knowledge working system previously limited to researchers, archivists and expert users was developed under the IST project of the same name. The collaboratory a compound term for collaboration and laboratory arose in the 1990s. Behind it is the idea that researchers work remotely using software tools such as databases, digital libraries and research results. Our system is the first collaboratory used in the humanities, believes Adelheit Stein, COLLATE project coordinator, based at the Fraunhofer IPSI in Germany. Digitising archives,From the three national archives involved in the project, the partners manually digitised 20,000 pages. These pages included mainly official documents about films that were censored for one reason or another in Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia during the 1920s and 1930s, as well as related correspondence, press articles, photos and film clips. The pages were then selected and bibliographically catalogued, indexed for keywords and annotated. Researchers can therefore access valuable historic and cultural sources by content, using existing tools and retrieval systems, some of which are open source. More than just digital pictures,Adds Stein: The challenge of historic multimedia is preserving, and offering access and content-based access. Previous digitised projects were just digital pictures, lacking content-based indexing and cataloguing, so it was not possible to search for content. The partners have reconstructed several old films. Prints of the complete Austrian movie Café Electrik, for instance, no longer exist. But using the new system, researchers have pieced together its story from related photos and subtitles. A very promising result, given that 80 per cent of films made in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were lost, destroyed or damaged during the Second World War. The COLLATE system can be used in other domains, says Stein, as it calls on the XML format for encoding of generic documents. She picks out cultural heritage in general, such as paintings and museums. It may also have applications in complex architectural projects, and anything with a pool of data and documents that people want to work with, she adds. Europe is home to some several hundred film archives. The COLLATE project has contacted many of them and received expressions of interest in the new system. Hence the development of a read-only public version. Anyone can make precise queries of it, but they cannot annotate information (add comments) to data already in the system, unlike expert users. The public version is expected to exist for at least another year. Further work may be needed on its retrieval interface, says Stein, but she expects this version to be followed by client and expert versions, the latter requiring a licence. The project coordinator believes the system will also raise awareness of archiving films and attract new people to the area, especially those studying media in universities. ,Contact:,Dr Adelheit Stein,Fraunhofer IPSI,Dolivostrasse 15,D-64293 Darmstadt,Germany,Tel: +49-6151-869841 ,Fax: +49-6151-869989,E-mail: Source: Based on information from COLLATEPublished by the IST Results service which gives you online news and analysis on the emerging results from Information Society Technologies research. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.