FIAF Timeline

Early years of the film archive movement



The very first film archive (in the modern sense of the word) to emerge is the Svenska Filmsamfundet, founded this year in Stockholm. Until now, film collections worldwide have been specialized and have had a utilitarian purpose (educational, legal, military, religious, etc.), whereas the Swedish archive sets itself the task of safeguarding cinema for its own sake.


January: The Nazi government establishes the Reichsfilmarchiv in Berlin.


Creation of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Film Library in New York (May) and the National Film Library, a department of the British Film Institute (BFI) in London (July). The same year, start of the Mario Ferrari Collection in Milan, which will eventually become the Cineteca Italiana.


In the summer, Iris Barry and her husband John Abbott of the MoMA Film Library tour Europe to engage with their European counterparts, and acquire film prints for MoMA’s collections. Shortly after their return to New York, they receive 29 prints of German classics sent from the Reichsfilmarchiv.

The Cinémathèque Française is founded in Paris (September). Its leader Henri Langlois and the Abbotts, who first met in June, are now in regular contact and promise to exchange prints and other materials.


February: Langlois receives a copy of Méliès’ film Le Voyage dans la Lune, which represents the first official exchange of prints between MoMA and the Cinémathèque française. To mark the occasion, Langlois organizes a press screening, attended by Méliès himself.


Foundation of FIAF and the war years



24 May: Opening of the MoMA exhibition at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris, attended by the representatives of the future four founding member archives (MoMA, BFI, Cinémathèque française and Reichsfilmarchiv). They initiate discussions about establishing an international federation of film archives.

9 and 15 June: The representatives of the four founding archives hold two meetings at the Chatham Hotel in Paris, to draft the constitution of the future Federation. They appoint Georges Franju, friend and colleague of Langlois’ at the Cinémathèque française, as the Federation’s first Executive Secretary. The FIAF Secretariat will be based in Paris, in a Palais Royal office provided by the French government.

17 June: The “Agreement for the International Federation of Film Archives” is officially signed by the representatives of the four founding archives at the Hotel Matignon (the French Prime Minister’s residence) in Paris, but they will have to be countersigned by higher authorities in their respective countries, for greater legitimacy of the new organization. FIAF’s first constitution includes one essential clause: “Rigorously excluded from the Federation are all institutions or organisations whatsoever which use their films for a commercial purpose.” This remains an underlying principle of FIAF over three-quarters of a century later.

20 June: Luigi Comencini and Alberto Lattuada, who took over Mario Ferrari’s film collection after his death, apply for FIAF membership with Langlois’ support, but their application is rejected by the other FIAF members, as the Italians did not attend the founding meetings. In the end the Cineteca Italiana will not become a FIAF member until after the war.

25 October: Simultaneous announcement of the foundation of FIAF by its four founder-members. The officers of the Federation, appointed until the 1939 Congress, are John Abbott (President), Frank Hensel (Vice-President and Secretary) and Olwen Vaughan (Treasurer).

December: The FIAF office opens at 2, Rue de Montpensier in Paris. MoMA and the BFI immediately pay their membership fees into the newly set-up FIAF bank account, but the other two founding member archives do not do so until the following summer.


23-26 July: The first FIAF Congress takes place in the new MoMA building in New York, with representatives of the four founding archives and a few official representatives from other countries. Frank Hensel (Berlin) is elected President; John E. Abbott (New York), Chairman; Henri Langlois (Paris), Secretary-General; and Olwen Vaughan (London), Treasurer.


September: The outbreak of war puts a sudden and premature end to the cooperation between FIAF members, especially after the MoMA representatives insist that all exchanges should cease for the duration of the war.


June: German troops invade Paris, and the FIAF office in Rue Montpensier is sealed by the occupying forces. Soon afterwards, Frank Hensel, who now works for Germany’s Information and Propaganda ministry but is still FIAF’s President, arrives in Paris. He holds a number of meetings with Langlois and insists that FIAF should continue. Langlois uses the FIAF connection and his contact with Hensel to try to secure the safety of the film collections of the Cinémathèque française.

The Third FIAF Congress, scheduled to take place in Berlin in August 1940, does not place, for obvious reasons.

FIAF Executive Secretary Georges Franju continues to work for the FIAF office under Hensel’s authority in Paris until at least 1943, and will be strongly criticized at the end of the war for the ambiguous role he played for the Germans during the Occupation period.


The post-war years


Renewal of contacts between the representatives of the first film archives (bar the Reichsfilmarchiv) at the International Cinema Congress in Basel.

In March, an information exchange meeting between films archivists takes place in Paris at the invitation of Langlois, and is followed by the first post-war FIAF Congress in July, still in Paris. Meanwhile, new archives are born :
- Archives Cinématographiques Suisses, in Basel (1943)
- Ceskoslovensky Filmvovy Ustav, in Prague (1945)
- Nederlands Historisch Film Archief, in Amsterdam (1946)
- Centralne Archivum Filmowe, in Warsaw (1946).

This period is extremely fruitful. New members join FIAF, bringing the total to 33 at the end of 1959. The idea of a film archive triumphs over the mistrust of producers and the inertia of public authorities. The movement to establish film archives begins to spread across the world. Among its new members FIAF counts Gosfilmofond in Moscow, founded in 1949, although the USSR has already been archiving films for some 20 years. In addition, FIAF expands geographically into Latin America, Asia, and North Africa. It is during the Congresses of these years that the concept of the modern film archive is developed. Jerzy Toeplitz serves as President. Ernest Lindgren (London) plays an essential role, alerting his colleagues to the great fragility of nitrate film, giving priority to preservation techniques and devising cataloguing rules. A sort of revolution takes place, in which FIAF members make the transition from the subjective focus of their early collections to the broader organizational objectivity of present-day archives.

The Cinémathèque française withdraws from FIAF, following strong disagreements between Langlois and other FIAF leaders at the 1959 Congress in Stockholm.

The first FIAF Commission is set up. It is concerned with Preservation, and its Chairman, Herbert Volkmann (East Berlin), presides over the publication of a technical manual, The Preservation of Film, in German (1963), later translated into English (1965) and French (1967). Other Commissions appear in subsequent years: Copyright, Documentation, and Cataloguing, which will play an essential role in the Federation’s work, allowing specialists to exchange experiences and providing theoretical and practical help to archives.


This period is characterized by the continuing extension of the international FIAF network. Preservation becomes a worldwide concern, affecting every country. Through the flexibility of its organization, FIAF is able to bring together government institutions, museums, foundations, universities, and private associations.
In 1987 there are 77 affiliates (Members and Observers) in 55 countries. All regions of the world are represented: Africa (3), North America (10), Latin America (12), Asia (11), Europe (38), and the Pacific (3).

Throughout this period, the Federation studies theoretical and practical questions in order to take a position and make recommendations. These includes the autonomy of archives, selection of films and documents, projection of old films, relations with rights-holders, training of technicians, degradation of colour film, proliferation of so-called film archives, use of computers, the “abusive” colorization of black and white films, etc. In addition, there is an increasing number of FIAF publications.

The Periodicals Indexing Project, a shared indexing system for film periodicals, is proposed by Karen Jones (Danish Film Institute), Michelle Snapes (later known as Michelle Aubert) of the British Film Institute, and Eileen Bowser (MoMA) to the Documentation Commission. Starting in 1972 as a card service, the P.I.P. then evolves technically from microfilm to CD-ROM, and is today a fully-fledged electronic publication including other FIAF databases. Originally based in London, it moves in with the FIAF Secretariat in Brussels in 1997. For more details about the history of FIAF's Periodicals Indexing Project go to the P.I.P. Timeline.
For the first time the FIAF Congress officially includes a Symposium, the topic being “Film Archives and Historical Research”. This will soon become an established practice. The first issue (new series) of the FIAF Information Bulletin is published under the direction of Jan De Vaal. In 1993 it will become the Journal of Film Preservation.

The first FIAF Summer School is held in East Berlin under the direction of Wolfgang Klaue. Thereafter Summer Schools will be held regularly for the training of Archive personnel, particularity from developing countries.


FIAF holds its annual Congress in Brighton, England. As part of the Congress, the Symposium “Cinema 1900-1906” brings together film archivists and film historians, who screen and discuss nearly 600 pre-1907 films. The results of this key event are a renewed interest in early films, and a rapprochement between the academic and archiving worlds. The proceedings will be published by FIAF in 1982 as a two-volume book.

FIAF obtains B-status recognition (information and consultation relations) from UNESCO.


On 27 October, the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images is adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO, meeting in Beograd. FIAF was closely associated with the preparation of this document, which recommends, among other things, the creation of film archives in countries where there are none; the statutory deposit of national production; the voluntary deposit of foreign production.


First meeting, in Brussels, of the Non-Governmental Organizations concerned with the preservation of audiovisual documents. Besides FIAF, the participants are the International Council of Archives (ICA), the International Federation of Television Archives (IFTA), the International Association of Sound Archives (IASA), and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). These informal consultation meetings will become annual, with UNESCO joining the group in 1984. The group will eventually form the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) at the end of the 1990s.

The first Joint Technical Symposium is organized by FIAF together with the Television Archives (IFTA/FIAT) in Stockholm, as part of the annual FIAF Congress.

A special film issue of the monthly UNESCO Courier is published in 27 languages with the collaboration of FIAF. Entitled Eternal Cinema, it contains a description of the international role of Archives in the safeguarding of national heritage.

Second Joint Technical Symposium, this time with the collaboration of both FIAT and IASA, in West Berlin. Wolfgang Klaue is awarded the UNESCO Silver Medal for his involvement in the safeguarding and preservation of the world’s audiovisual heritage.

FIAF holds its 50th Anniversary Congress in Paris, the city where it was founded. Exhibition “Affiches du Cinéma muet dans le monde, 1895-1929” at the Musée d’Orsay. A FIAF Fund is created in order to help archives from developing countries to participate in the activities of the Federation.

Publication of the book Treasures from the Film Archives, edited by Ronald S. Magliozzi (MoMA), with the collaboration of the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. Treasures from the Film Archives has since become an important component of the FIAF Databases.

Creation of the Commission for Programming and Access to Collections. The “Projet Lumière” is initiated under the leadership of Michelle Aubert, as part of the Centenary of Cinema.


The Association des Cinémathèques Européennes (ACE), the European group of FIAF archives, is created.

The Cinémathèque française finally returns to FIAF.


First issue of the Journal of Film Preservation, the successor of the FIAF Information Bulletin.


Draft and vote on the European Convention for the Protection of the Audiovisual Heritage.


New Challenges for a New Millenium


At the invitation of UNESCO, FIAF participates in the official celebration of the Centenary of Cinema, with 1500 guests from all over the world in attendance. “100 Years/Saving the Film Heritage Fund” is launched by UNESCO. The Calendar of Centenary Events is set up on the first FIAF website in order to publicize the wealth of events organized throughout the world by FIAF archives. Several film Archives launch successful “Lost Film Search” appeals.
Publication of the book The Categories Game, a survey by the Commission for Programming and Access to Collections, with support from the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
Publication of the FIAF Statistical Survey, edited by Michelle Aubert.
Brigitte Van der Elst, longtime FIAF Administrative Secretary, retires. Christian Dimitriu is appointed Senior Administrator of FIAF.


The Southeast Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA) is created. The FIAF Cataloguing Rules of Film Archives, originally published in English only, is translated by affiliated archives into Chinese, French, Italian, and Spanish.
The FIAF Summer School is organized for the second time (after 1992) by the NFTVA/BFI (London) with help from UNESCO.
The working group “Future of FIAF” is created.


UNESCO publishes a new Copyright Survey with the contributions of FIAF archives. FIAF now has 124 affiliates.

The FIAF Code of Ethics is ratified by the Prague Congress, and published in three languages.
Taxco (Mexico): The newly founded Council of North American Film Archives (CNAFA), a working group of all FIAF affiliates from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, has its first annual meeting.

Rutger Penne replaces Michael Moulds as P.I.P. editor. 

The new FIAF Statutes and Rules, including changes in voting procedures, are ratified and published in three languages. A detailed financial study of the 124 affiliates is carried out in order to introduce a new level of fees set according to the Archives’ budgets.
An “Appeal for Peace” is sent to the United Nations via UNESCO as bombings threaten the Yugoslavian film collection.


The fifth Joint Technical Symposium, entitled “Image and Sound Archiving and Access: The Challenges of the 3rd Millennium”, takes place in Paris. The proceedings are published by the CNC.
The Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) is created.

Important changes in affiliation rules (Members, Associates), membership fees and voting rights for Affiliates.


The first FIAF Award is presented to Martin Scorsese in New York.


First Edition of the Second Century Forum.

Publication of This Film Is Dangerous. A Celebration of Nitrate Film, edited by Roger Smither and Catherine A. Surowiec, which remains the best-selling FIAF book today.

The FIAF Oral History Project is launched.


The Cineteca di Bologna hosts the FIAF Summer School for the first time.


  FIAF now has 132 affiliates (83 Members, 49 Associates) in 68 countries. All regions of the world are represented: Africa (6), North America (16), Latin America (13), Asia (20), Europe (73), and the Pacific (4).

FIAF’s 70th Anniversary Congress, organized by the Centre National de la Cinématographie, takes place in Paris.


This year’s Joint Technical Symposium, dealing with digital challenges and opportunities in audiovisual archiving, is organized by FIAF on behalf of the CCAAA, and overlaps with the FIAF Congress in Oslo.


FIAF organizes a Summer School for African film archivists in Pretoria. It is co-funded by FIAF, the Goethe Institut in South Africa and UNESCO.

In July, Christian Dimitriu retires after over 15 years at the helm of the FIAF Secretariat. He is succeeded by Christophe Dupin.

The first issue of the FIAF Bulletin Online is published in October.



Publication of the FIAF Digital Projection Guide, written by Torkell Sætervadet, six years after the publication of his Advanced Projection Manual co-published by FIAF and the Norwegian Film Institute.

The Journal of Film Preservation gets a new design, combined with a slightly more modern editorial approach, to appeal to the widest possible readership in the film heritage sector.



January: The FIAF Supporters programme is created, to enable companies and organizations which do not qualify to become FIAF affiliates to have a formal relationship with the Federation and support its activities and projects via an annual donation.



After 18 years in Rue Defacqz, the FIAF heaquarters moves to Rue Blanche 42, Brussels.



A new FIAF website is launched in November.

FIAF has 155 affiliates (85 Members and 70 Associates) in 74 countries.


A new ambitious Training & Outreach Programme is introduced former Technical Commission Head David Walsh is appointed as T&O Coordinator.

The FIAF Moving Image Cataloguing Manual is published as a free PDF and as a purchasable book. It is the result of many years of labour and collaboration with numerous professionals in the moving image field.


FIAF celebrates its 80th anniversary.

A FIAF Internship Fund is introduced to faciliate the exchange of interns among FIAF affiliates.


The Journal of Film Preservation celebrates issue 100 with the publication of a special historical issue.

Jean-Luc Godard is the 18th recipient of the FIAF Award. He is presented with the Award during the 2019 FIAF Congress in Lausanne.

A first version of this chronology appeared in the book published on the occasion of FIAF’s 70th anniversary in 2008, and was initially edited by Robert Daudelin and Eric Le Roy. It was expanded, updated, and corrected by Christophe Dupin.