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Preserving Groningen's History through Film

Cultural heritage is a community's legacy. Something we live with today, and what society will eventually pass on to future generations. Acting as custodians of the past, archive centers around the world are tasked with not only storing content, but also making it accessible. Groningen Audio Visueel Archief (GAVA) is one such facility in the Netherlands responsible for looking after more than 24,000 audiovisual items relating to the region of Groningen, which are kept on formats varying from nitrate film base to digibeta.


Founded in 1992 as the second regional AV archive in the Netherlands, GAVA specializes in cataloging and preserving sound and video programs about the province of Groningen, as well as productions created by residents from Groningen. In addition to acting as a repository, the center is also tasked with making all of its archived footage available to broadcasters, artists, museum organizations and businesses online.


Before GAVA was founded, the public archive and production organizations in Groningen had very limited knowledge of how to store and care for film, such as Super 8 and 35mm nitrate rolls. Due to their highly explosive properties, nitrate film from Groningen was sent to the national audiovisual archive in Amsterdam.


Unfortunately, valuable pieces of film documenting Groningen's history was lost and destroyed during this process. As there were no specialist archives in Groningen, the decision to create a regional AV archive, like GAVA, was the best way to preserve the region's precious film history and move to digital archiving so that the public can access to the archives. As part of this process, GAVA are using a number of Blackmagic Design products, including Blackmagic Design Studio Videohub routers, ATEM Television Studios, SmartView Duo monitors and Decklink HD Extreme 3D capture and playback cards.


At the forefront of this restoration and archiving initiative is René Duursma, curator of AV at GAVA.  René boasts more than 10 years of experience in filmmaking, AV and music production, and is passionate about the collection he has built with the rest of the team at GAVA.

"We [GAVA] have a film collection dating back to 1914. Our oldest film documents the funeral of a well respected Dutch military commander and politician, Colonel Lodewijk Thomson. With a collection of more than 15,000 videotapes, you can imagine the vastness of the collection both in terms of the age and content. We are really proud of the collection amassed so far and the focus on the Groningen region specifically," said René.

Moving to a file based workflow

In 2004, GAVA decided to join the digital revolution and began digitalizing their entire catalogue to digibeta and in 2011, GAVA went completely file based storing all material to a server and making them accessible online to local artists, schools, radio and television stations.

He continues: "Preserving Groningen's film history is important to not only GAVA, but also to local artists and schools, so being able to provide access to our film archives easily and in a format that everyone can work with is important."


René has been an integral part of deciding what is restored and distributed into a digital format. This is decided by the importance of the project and the level of damage that has occurred to the film.

As restoring and archiving film can be a very labor intensive process, far more so than tape, most of the high profile film productions will be sent to a studio in Amsterdam where the film will be turned into an HD or 10 bit uncompressed format and delivered back to GAVA's servers for archiving.


Video is transferred directly to a server, after processing it through a time base corrector. Blackmagic Design's Studio Videohub router is at the center of this process. The Studio Videohub, controlled via a Blackmagic Design Smart Control panel, routes all signals from three Final Cut Pro stations and GAVA's server, where the archived footage is stored.

The Studio Videohub is perfect for smaller workgroups, like the GAVA, who need compact size at an affordable cost. It has the exact same high performance features of the larger models from Blackmagic Design, including 3 Gb/s SDI, auto standard detection for SD, HD and 3 Gb/s HD SDI formats, and reclocking.

"Sitting at the heart of our operation, the Videohub was vital to our decision to switch to an entirely file based workflow," said René. "If it wasn't for Blackmagic Design we wouldn't have been able to achieve the streamlined process and quick turnaround time that we currently have in place."

Applying the finishing touch

Some footage must be edited before it is archived to the server. This is done by playing from an analog video recorder into a Kramer Matrix Switcher and capturing clips via a Blackmagic Design DeckLink HD Extreme 3D card, where it can be edited using Final Cut Pro.

After it has been through the FCP suite, the 10 bit uncompressed footage is sent back through another DeckLink HD Extreme 3D card and fed into an ATEM Television Studio production switcher to lay GAVA graphics over the footage. The final output is sent to a DVD recorder for clients who require a DVD copy of the footage, and the edited 10 bit footage is saved to the internal server.

With the ATEM Television Studio, the GAVA gets a full broadcast quality production switcher with real time H.264 encoding to capture footage directly to files for Internet distribution. It also comes with character and title generation, which includes a Photoshop plug in that allows instantaneous download of graphics and titles from Photoshop directly into the ATEM media pool; which the GAVA find useful for placing logos and graphics onto footage.

GAVA are also using a pair of Blackmagic SmartView Duo rack mounted SDI monitors. The dual eight inch LCD screens of the Smartview Duo are used by GAVA with a Blackmagic Design UltraScope waveform monitor, allowing them to test the color spectrum of final footage to ensure they are achieving the colors required for restoration.

René said, "We know that this is not the most conventional way an ATEM Television Studio has been used, however it was the most cost effective way for us to incorporate logos into our footage. As a publicly funded organization, it is very important that we keep our costs down. Sometimes that means you have to think outside of the box if you are to find a cost effective solution; Blackmagic Design have a way of always providing those to us."

Unparalleled access to modern history

The GAVA's clientele includes regional, national and international broadcasters; as well as museums like the Auschwitz Museum in Poland, the Groninger Museum and the Arnhem Openlucht Museum, who are all turning to GAVA for material.


More recently local and international artists, like the Cocorosie Tour Europe, are taking advantage of the vast array of digital footage held by GAVA for the upcoming Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival in Noorderplantsoen and Groningen City. Taking place in August 2012, the festival was a cutting edge arts event with unique and compelling performances spanning genres, including documentaries, drama, comedy and interpretive and musical theatre.


For the 22nd year running, the festival played host to more than 135,000 visitors in the idyllic setting of Noorderplantsoen Park, as well as various city center locations across Groningen. Artists and musicians from France, Australia, Cambodia, Norway, Belgium, Germany, USA, UK, Switzerland, Finland, South Africa, Mozambique and Hungary exhibited their performance pieces (narrated in Groningen) at the festival.


René, as a film artist himself, is excited to be involved in the festival, helping this year's talent incorporate archived pieces with their own modern masterpieces.


"Local artists and performers are coming to us from all across the region as they need to mix our footage together with their own visual performances, or they want to lay specially created soundtracks over footage as part of DJ sets. It's great to see artists combining the past with modern music for their own artistic interpretations," said René.

All photography provided by (c)GAVA


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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Groningen Audio Visueel Archief, Studio Videohub, ATEM Television Studios, SmartView Duo, Decklink HD Extreme 3D

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