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In a letter to Harun Farocki written in January 1976, German producer and commissioning editor Joachim von Mengershausen (co-producer of Wenders, Fassbinder, and the like), claims: One should put a substantial effort into making the TV archives as public as public libraries, with all that this requires: adequate preservation, recording of origins and dates, etc.Hence, at least partially an expropriation of television, which should not be difficult to find political arguments for.***A few words on background context.Film educational efforts (pursued most insistently in France since the 1960s) and experimentation on television are two of the currents that should play a more important role in the historiography of the video essay.
We interviewed protagonists from different fields like Jean Douchet, Alain Bergala, Peter Tscherkassky, Martin Arnold, Tag Gallagher, Bernard Eisenschitz, André S.
Labarthe, and others; we compiled a filmography of this genre, and we edited 18 online dossiers built around the people, infrastructures, and topics. First and foremost, we organised cinema screenings to present work from this context.
In Germany, culture and education are organised on the federal level of the ‘Bundesländer’.
The different areas of Germany have their specific regional ‘third channels’ under the umbrella channel ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland).
Against the comfort of clicking one’s way through what is available online, it is a tedious and cumbersome endeavor to explore these treasures: one has to travel to the archives, to make appointments with complicated institutions, and to pay substantial fees to get the opportunity to screen historical programs.
Without institutional backing and substantial funding, this is almost impossible to realise.The consequence to be drawn from this is simple: this particular segment of television history, but also television history in general, needs to be more accessible to enter the historiography of digital practices.Since the programs in question were produced with public funding (the taxpayer’s money), it is hard to understand why they should not be available to the public for non-commercial educational and research purposes.French school television, the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), founded in 1974, and later film educational activities by Jean Douchet, Alain Bergala, and others also provide fertile ground for a reconsideration of the contemporary video essay’s past.There is, I would argue, a strong need for a European perspective on this.In those days, since there were no VHS recorders, people asked for transcripts of the programs.So our office was always filled up with piles of manuscripts to send via mail.Starting around 1970, commissioning editors such as Reinold Thiel, Wilfried Reichart, Werner Dütsch, Angelika Wittlich, Helmut Merker, and Georg Alexander produced and commissioned a variety of different productions that devised ways of combining images and sounds to address the aesthetics and history of cinema.All three WDR examples featured in this dossier take us back to the mid-1970s. This is only a tiny selection of a vast body of work lying dormant in the vaults of the television archives.Werner Dütsch remembers that in the early days, the Filmredaktion commissioned one program each week in winter and one every 14 days in the summer, adding up to around 30-40 programs per year.To highlight television as a major catalyst in the history of videographic film studies aims at adding three arguments to today’s discussion of the video essay:(1) Hopefully, it can help to shift the focus from questions of individual authorship to questions of infrastructures and institutional frameworks. Researching the history of these programs means becoming aware of the alliance between the WDR film department and the journal FILMKRITIK, but also of the importance of specific commissioning editors and editorial departments within the channel.(2) There is an unfortunate tendency to identify film history – and thus: the potential source material of videographic film studies – with those films that are available in digital formats, be it on DVD or as mpg-files or via streaming.In a kind of digital amnesia, this means involuntarily wiping out the analog precursors.