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Digitisation of film heritage

The Film Archive of the National Archives of Estonia is carrying out two film related digitisation projects between 2020 and 2023.

The first project includes 120 hours of 35 mm black-and-white newsreels made between 1940–1967. In the collections of the Film Archive, around 275 hours of newsreels can be found. These films are reflecting the life and people of the 20th century and belong to the most actively usable part of the Archives’ audiovisual collection. The selection for the digitisation covers the peak of the production of Soviet Estonian newsreels in 1950s and 1960s when Tallinnfilm studio produced yearly around 50 newsreels. A wide variety of topics comprises cultural events, sports competitions, personal stories, rural and urban environment, industrial landscape as well as insights to the technology of factories, or daily life of schools and kindergartens. Newsreels also pass on local traditions and play an important role in studying the history of institutions and home areas, enriching museum exhibitions and study programs, and accelerating the use of audiovisual heritage in film and media industry. Prior to the first digitisation project, there were around 7% (i.e. 20 hours) of newsreels digitised in high-resolution (Full HD). The rest of the collection was not digitised, or it was only accessible as a low-resolution preview copy.

The second project includes 125 hours of Tallinnfilm’s 35 mm black-and-white narrative features, documentaries and newsreels made between 1940–1993. The selection includes nearly 400 films, including 70 hours of documentaries, 33 hours of narrative features and 22 hours of newsreels. The focus of the project is the Estonian documentary heritage, i.e. Tallinnfilm’s black-and-white documentaries, of which only approximately 15% have been digitised in Full HD resolution. Among others, the selection includes films depicting the vibrant everyday life by well-known filmmakers: Vitali Gorbunov, Semjon Školnikov, Ülo Tambek, Hans Roosipuu, Peep Puks, Harri Rehe, Peeter Tooming, Andres Sööt, Enn Säde, Valeria Anderson, Olav Neuland, Leida Laius.

Digitisation of film heritage is a complex process involving several activities and specialists. The preparation work in the Film Archive lasted almost 2.5 years, when more than 1,800 reels of film were prepared for digitisation: the most suitable film element was selected, protective leaders were added, splices and perforation were repaired, and reels were cleaned.

The film digitisation and post-production service was outsourced and jointly provided by Ratus OÜ and Prasad Corporation Private Limited, who won international tenders in both projects. Digitisation was carried out in Estonia with the Scanity 4K film scanner between 2020 and 2022, sound was also synchronized in Estonia, and the post-production (including the creation of access and online copies) took place at Prasad’s studio in India. In total, 400,000 meters of film (i.e. 21 million individual frames) were digitised and 2,528 access and online copies were created – i.e. more than 2 PB of data.

The descriptive and technical metadata of the films was catalogued by the Estonian Film Database (Eesti Filmi Andmebaas), the NGO that won the tenders in both projects. In agreement with the Estonian Film Institute, the projects culminate in the complete access of the films: more than 1,200 film works will be available in the Meediateek and Arkaader (individual news stories also on the film map) and descriptive metadata in the Meediateek and the Estonian Film Database. As a result of two projects, already more than a half of the collection of newsreels will be available online, and Tallinnfilm’s black-and-white documentaries will be almost completely digitised.

Discover the results in Meediateek:

Project managers:

Kadi Sikka (1st project)

Saara Kruus (2nd project, 1st half)

Jaspar Jõhvik (2nd project, 2nd half)

Media release and additional information:

Watching the solar eclipse of 1954 in Tallinn. The Soviet Estonian newsreel “Nõukogude Eesti” no. 19, EFA.203.f.863.

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