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il. Piotr Chuchla
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Merger with NInA will not save the National Film Archive

In July of 2016, the Minister of Culture announced plans to merge NInA with the National Film Archive. In the months since the announcement, the Ministry has failed to deliver a consistent vision for the new institution and conduct any meaningful consultations on the matter. The previously announced date of the merger (March 1) has been pushed forward in the last instant to May 10, 2017. The protracted period of uncertainty is of no service to either institution and is a testament to the fact that the Ministry has no overarching idea for the new organization. Consequently, we would like to reiterate our position on the matter.

Despite ostensible similarities, the NInA and the National Film Archive have a different scope of operations and a different remit. The NInA handles audiovisual culture in a modern and comprehensive manner and its area of interest includes not only cinematography, but also Internet culture, new media, and emergent phenomena in music, theater, and video art. Founded on the assumption that technological progress is a key element of the audiovisual, the NInA not only establishes new standards in the course of discharging its institutional duties—the archiving, digitization, and dissemination of content—but also subjects the evolution, preservation, and distribution of media to critical analysis.

This particular operational profile requires the Institute to design and launch innovative and multifaceted initiatives: preserving current cultural events, co-producing new cinematographic efforts, and employing archival materials in a fresh and creative manner in order to draw knowledge and inspiration from them. As a modern and progressive institution, we’ve spent the past years employing participatory management methods to draft new standards and processes that would facilitate the NInA’s innovative operations while still promoting the rationalization of labor and employment. The highly unique work environment fostered by the NInA staff has facilitated the organization of pioneering ventures and initiatives which often required the Institute to employ innovative and non-standard approaches to project management, combine a broad range of specialist competencies, encourage trans-sectoral collaboration, and work effectively with very short timeframes. As a result, the Institute operates much like a modern cluster institution that combines a range of different functions and competencies, reflecting the diverse challenges of our times.

That particular model, however, is viable only if the specific nature of current NInA operations is preserved. There are legitimate concerns that the upcoming changes to the structure and organization of the NInA will produce an ineffective institution that will squander the capital that the Institute has accrued over the years. One example would be the failure to secure the extension of ISO certification (the NInA was one of the first institutions to receive the latest ISO 9001:2015 certificate for its digitization, archiving, and dissemination efforts)—such oversight would result in a significant blow to the Institute’s image worldwide and would threaten the quality of the processes that constitute the NInA’s primary mission.

The planned merger with the National Film Archive would also squander the years of work that went into establishing a specific image of the Institute on the domestic and international stage and a consistent visual identity for all its online and offline projects. The NInA’s visual identity was developed in the course of a nearly yearlong dialogue with the Institute’s users conducted by user experience (UX) experts. The nina.gov.pl website was also redesigned according to the latest trends, a process that imbued it with a contextual and repertoire-oriented nature. The wayfinding system installed on the premises of the NInA offices—designed by the team at UVMW—was recognized by Branding Served and featured in Chois Gallery, a design yearbook published in Shanghai highlighting the best in design work from all over the globe.

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Due to its mission, the NInA perfectly understands the need to preserve, digitize, and disseminate the masterpieces of Polish audiovisual culture collected by the National Film Archive. However, reports of the dreadful conditions that the archives of the NFA find themselves in (most recently described by Newsweek) are cause for great concern. Consolidating the NFA with the NInA will not solve these problems. The NInA operates two storage spaces, 100 square meters each; one is used for audiovisual resources, the other for paper-based records. Both can only serve as a backup repository of data and records for the NInA’s current needs and under no circumstances will they be able to provide the necessary storage capacity for cinematographic collections whose specific nature (including the fact that each title is preserved on a couple of different mediums) results in much larger requirements in terms of storage space than magnetic or digital media. The situation in the NInA’s digitization labs is similar, particularly when it comes to staffing and equipment. Currently, the NInA is able to digitize around 45 films per year, but current estimates on additional work necessary for making said digitized content ready for screening and distribution put the number of titles fit for consumption at about 3-4 per year.

We need to emphasize that prior collaboration between the NInA and the NFA clearly demonstrates that the merger is not necessary to carry out the mission that the Minister has in mind for the new institution (“Increasing the effectiveness of efforts to preserve and distribute Polish national audiovisual heritage”). On the contrary, the merger would definitely incur additional costs and unquantifiable organizational chaos, and produce unnecessary formal burdens and liabilities—including but not limited to the need for additional accounting, difficulties in assigning funds from targeted grants, and complications with delivery of current projects related to the changes in personnel responsibilities. Naturally, these are only a fraction of the problems we can expect after the merger.

Like the NFA, the NInA is an independent institution whose character and specifics were shaped to some degree by its environment. It’s an institution with its own resources, traditions, “know-how,” and practices that up until now—in the course of a fairly short period—have come together to produce numerous highly successful initiatives that served broadly defined public interest—the state, the citizens, and the collective memory of future generations. The National Audiovisual Institute is involved in multifaceted collaborative relationships with institutions with a similar although not necessarily identical profile; together, they handle interinstitutional tasks and support each other with expertise and practical know-how. One of the most important of said partner institutions is undoubtedly the National Film Archive. But it is necessary to reiterate that both organizations have profiles and operational scopes which are similar, but not identical.

In the attached document, we present broader recommendations that emphasize the NInA’s distinctive competencies and demonstrate that they can and should be continued and developed further.Our intention is for them to be heard as a constructive voice and a sign of concern for Polish audiovisual culture and unfettered access to its riches—which is in keeping with the spirit of our times and the expectations of our users—and above all of a desire to ensure the continuity of the intangible gains the NInA has achieved over the years of its existence.

 

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