Archives for Change: Political Films and the City – The Case of the Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (1974–1984)

Amsterdams Stadsjournaal. Detail of a poster, around 1975. (Collection: International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam)
In this collaboratively authored piece, the Political Film Archives group considers the theory and practice of archiving underground political films and discusses recent efforts to catalogue, preserve, and exhibit the films of Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, a radical filmmaking collective active in the 1970s and 1980s.

There is currently a growing interest in political films from the 1970s and 1980s.1Besides multiple articles, many books have been published about it, focused on specific movements, filmmakers, countries or themes, including publications by Bloomsbury (London/New York), e.g., Sue Clayton and Laura Mulvey, Other Cinemas: Politics, Culture and Experimental Film in the 1970s (2017); Rachel Garfield, Experimental Filmmaking and Punk: Feminist Audio Visual Culture in the 1970s and 1980s (2021); Ewa Mazierska and Lars Kristensen, eds., Third Cinema, World Cinema and Marxism (2020), as well as publications by Boydell and Brewer (Martlesham), e.g., Ros Gray, Cinemas of the Mozambican Revolution: Anti-Colonialism, Independence and Internationalism in Filmmaking, 1968-1991 (2020); Melissa Thackway and Jean-Marie Teno. Reel Resistance: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Teno (2023); Christina Gerhardt and Marco Abel, Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968 (2019), besides many others, e.g., Morgan Adamson, Enduring Images: A Future History of New Left Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Michael Goddard, Guerrilla Networks: An Anarchaeology of 1970s Radical Media Ecologies (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018); Andrew Nette and Samm Deighan, eds. Revolution in 35mm: Political Violence and Resistance in Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse, 1960-1990 (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2024). Pertinent issues addressed by them are still at play today, such as capitalist extraction, structural inequality, racism, violation of human rights, and exhaustion of natural resources. At the same time, such films have gained interest because of their collaborative modes of production, and exhibition focused on activation. Due to such characteristics, however, these films may not have been included in regular film archives. Several conferences have paid attention to this in recent years.2For example: Activating the Archive, Eye Filmmuseum (i.c.w. University of Amsterdam), 26-29 May 2018, https://www.eyefilm.nl/programma/conferentie-2018/95194; Radicals – Orphan Film Symposium, Austrian Film Museum, Vienna (i.c.w. New York university), June 7 & 8, 2019, https://orphanfilmsymposium.blogspot.com/2019/05/; Archives/Counter Archives – Orphan Film Symposium, Concordia University, Montreal (i.c.w. New York University), 15-18 June 2022, https://counterarchive.ca/orphan-film-symposium-registration-and-program; Visions of Life Symposium: Utopian Dreams, Revolutionary Filmmaking & The Politics of the Film Archive in Africa, The Harvard University Center for African Studies, 31 March – April 1 2022, https://africa.harvard.edu/event/visions-life-symposium-utopian-dreams-revolutionary-filmmaking-politics-film; Workshop: Transnational Film Archives and the Politics of Exclusion – After Accumulation, Sinema Transtopia, Berlin (i.c.w. Freie Universität), 20 November 2023), https://www.temporal-communities.de/events/workshop-politics-of-inclusion.html; International Seminar on Archives and Counter-Archives: Image Politics and Migration, Getulio Vargas Foundation, Rio de Janeiro (i.c.w. PUC-RJ and UEL), 6-10 May 2024, https://cpdoc.fgv.br/en/events/counter-archives-seminar; Archives of Radical Cinema – Radical Film Network, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (i.c.w. Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Research Council of Finland), 19-22 June 2024, https://radicalfilmnetwork.com/conferences/madrid-2024/. Within the academic debate that has developed accordingly, infrastructures for preservation, including digitization efforts, have been critically addressed.3Sima Kokotović, “Archival Film Practice Behind Off Frame: Unravelling Cinematic Solidarities in the Palestinian Struggle for Liberation,” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 64.1 (Spring 2023), 156-179 [158]. In terms of collection management, Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak have highlighted, in a feminist context, the problem of “navigating the vast, scattered terrain of marginalized film archives”.4Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak, “Why We Curate Feminist Film Archives,” Feminist Media Histories, 10.2-3 (2024): 3. This is a major issue, as material made by a single group might already be dispersed,5Cf. Kelly R. Haydon, The Archival Status of the Newsreel Collection in Care of Third World Newsreel: A Mid-term Project Report (New York: Activist Archivists, 2013), 7-8. <krhaydon.weebly.com › uploads › 2/6/9> sometimes due to political threats.6Özge Çelikaslan, “Found or Lost? Turkey’s Vulnerable Film and Video Heritage,” in Accidental Archivism: Shaping Cinema’s Futures with Remnants of the Past, eds. Stefanie Schulte Strathaus and Vinzenz Hediger (Lüneburg: Meson Press, 2023), 307-318. Hennefeld and Horak add that “Feminist archives are nothing if not messy and contradictory”.7Ibid. Political films interact with their environment, and contextual information is therefore needed, but not always available or organized. Since political films circulated largely outside cinemas, and since they were meant to raise awareness and activate audiences, information about exhibition practices is needed too.8Luna Hupperetz, “Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms: Restoring a Militant Cinema Network,” The Moving Image 22.1 (Spring 2022): 46-64. Moreover, the films were related to other media and expressions, like magazines and stage performances. This points to the discursive character of these films. As political struggles are often characterized by different positions and convictions, ideas and interests, intentions might be contested, as well as their results, which requires revisiting and reviewing collections.9This is a key idea within the Records Continuum Model, see: Viviane Frings‑Hessami, “The Societal Embeddedness of Records: Teaching the Meaning of the Fourth Dimension of the Records Continuum Model in Different Cultural Contexts,” Archival Science 21 (2021), 139–154. In short, the archival problems here relate to the very character of political films, which makes the archival endeavor particularly relevant, especially when aligned with current issues.10Hennefeld and Horak, “Why We Curate,” 6. Cf. Lee Douglas, “The Probable Revolution: Archival Images, (Im)materiality, and the Reactivation of Portuguese Militant Cooperative Cinema,” Romanic Review 114.2 (2023): 360-379 [364].

The question how political films could be retrieved, archived, contextualised and brought into present discourses, for the continued activation of audiences, is posed here from an urban perspective. On the one hand, the city is a concrete environment in which to find connections between materials and their custodians, while different institutions can closely interact. Archival institutions in the city also serve, in a direct way, collective memory – as opposed to the more indirect forms of collective memory of the nation state, for example. On the other hand, cities have been the focus of capitalist business, including real estate development, which exists next to problems of labor, housing, and education, among others. Cities are also big consumers of energy and resources extracted from elsewhere, which strains both ecological and social relations. It is in this light that we can understand the “societal embeddedness” of political films.11Viviane Frings‑Hessami, “The Societal Embeddedness of Records.”

To do so, the Eye Filmmuseum, the Amsterdam City Archives (Stadsarchief Amsterdam) and the University of Amsterdam are conducting a joint research, archival and curatorial project concerning political films from the 1970s and 1980s, first of all by mapping their landscape in the Netherlands,12This ‘map’ entails an archival component too, seen from today’s perspective, building on the already existing ‘map’ of the landscape that was written at that time, by Karel Dibbets, “De ontwikkeling van het vrije filmcircuit,” in: Matheid, Hoezo? Tweeëntwintig teksten over kunst en politiek ’70…’80, eds. Carry van Lakerveld and Joost Smiers (Amsterdam: Sjaloom, 1981), 128–136. and eventually abroad. This mapping can draw on events such as “Rencontres 77: European Meeting for a New Cinema,” held in Utrecht in 1977, with participants and films from across Europe and Latin America.13 [1] International Institute of Social History, Archief Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms, ARCH02599 Folder 001 “Correspondentie 1972–1977” [Documentation Rencontres 77]. The Netherlands was represented through films made by the Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (1974-1984),14The team has studied the available materials at hand, and has regularly organized screenings for invited guests, among them the filmmakers and other stakeholders as ‘focus groups. and it is this collective that serves here as a pilot.15 he team has studied the available materials at hand, and has regularly organized screenings for invited guests, among them the filmmakers and other stakeholders as ‘focus groups.’

The Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (“Amsterdam City Newsreel”) was inspired by The Newsreel (1967–1973), from New York – whose archival project has, in turn, also set an inspiring example.16Haydon, The Archival Status. The Amsterdams Stadsjournaal produced 37 films in total, many of which relate to urban development, with topics such as urban renewal, suburbanization, public transport, real estate ownership and speculation, urban greenery, and citizen participation.17A comprehensive overview of the content of all films can be found in Jan Heijs, 10 Jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1974-1984. (Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1984), 80–85. The films, shot on 16mm, were shown across the Netherlands through a network of alternative venues. While the films were distributed by Fugitive Cinema, the Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (from now on: ASJ) still made a major effort to promote them.18Periodically, ASJ mailed approximately 9,000 addresses of potential exhibitors all over the Netherlands, which was still labour intensive and expensive. Source: Archief Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (work in progress), Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. In the archives at Eye Filmmuseum, specified records have been kept, with overviews and analyses of screenings and discussions.19ASJ usually recorded the discussions and also kept records of the numbers of screenings per film, and the organisations and venues that screened the films: Jan Heijs, 10 jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1974–1984 (Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1984): 90–91. For specific data: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, Vertonings-gegevens 1978 en 1979: … een verslag van film weer onder de mensen brengen (Amsterdam: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1980); – Vertonings-gegevens 1980-1981 (Amsterdam: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1981). The current project team has been dealing with these records, while preparing films for digitization, and developing cataloguing strategies, as well as public presentations. In what follows, the work of the ASJ will be explained, their ideas, how their films have played a role in urban development, through specific presentation practices, and the archival implications and prospects.

Between theory and practice

The ASJ was the product of its times: politically subversive, and critical of the commodified state of the Dutch film industry. Rooted in Marxist theory and a sociological approach to film practice, the films addressed actual social and economic relations and political structures.20The collective extensively discussed their methods and motivations in a report published after the release of their third film. See: Annette Apon, Gerrard Verhage, et al, Een poging om film weer onder de mensen te brengen (Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1976), 3–10. As an experimental film collective, ASJ attempted to intervene in the political landscape. It was dedicated to finding visual forms and screening practices that would fit their theoretical premises, in order to instigate and propel change. It would bring film to the people and use the screenings to gauge which forms best achieved their purposes.21Idem. The collective was deeply embedded in theory, engaging with modernist debates on estrangement and montage, and practices of collective filmmaking. In retrospect, the publication in Skrien of a Dutch translation of the manifesto “For a Militant Film” (Skrien 4, 1969) by the French film collective Etats Généreaux was particularly relevant for the founding of the ASJ. In fact, the collective emerged around the film magazine Skrien (1968–2008), with its co-founder Annette Apon also being one of the founders of ASJ. Between 1969 and 1975, Skrien published many articles on structuralism, Russian formalism, Soviet cinema, cultural imperialism and Brechtian aesthetics, which affected ASJ.22Besides Apon, several other ASJ members were also editors of Skrien. The year 1973 was particularly heavy on theory that shaped the methods of the collective. Skrien 32, 33, 34 and 35 contain articles on Russian formalism. Skrien 33 also includes references to Louis Althusser, while 38 and 39 are dedicated to the debates between Berthold Brecht and Georg Lukacs. Skrien functioned both as an aggregation of the foundational theoretical texts on which the collective based their ideas, as well as a forum within which debates could be held and justifications could be made for the decisions made on screen.23An example of a significant debate can be found in Skrien 75 (May 1978), in which journalist Lidy van Marissing critiques the film 10.000 Megawatt. It includes a response by screenwriter Gerard D’Olivat (34-35). In Skrien 78 (September 1978) Helle Alofs reopens the debate, followed by a response of ASJ member Annette Apon (30-32). In Skrien 79 (October 1978), Gerrard Verhage defends the collective’s stylistic switch in the following film De Koppelbazen. This switch marked a new phase in the collective’s stylistic decisions and production practices (9-15). The result of this self-reflexive practice and learning process is a corpus of films that can roughly be split into three phases: the early “theoretical films,” the “target audience films,” and finally the “freeform films and documentaries”24Jan Heijs provides a great account of the evolution of the collective. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are dedicated to the three distinct phases mentioned. Jan Heijs, 10 Jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1974–1984 (Amsterdam, Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1984), 19–66. – the latter prepared for the individual careers of the collective’s members afterwards. While this suggests a certain evolution, each stage has its own merits, and we will have a close look here at the foundational first stage.

When it came to applying theory to film practice, the collective first started to analyse a social problem, which then informed the drafting of the screenplay. In frequent meetings, the drafts were discussed, and only when everyone was content, filming would begin. Documentary parts were combined with staged scenes, which strengthened the analytical structure of the film. An example is ASJ 2 Privé-eigendom en misdaad (“Private Property and Crime,” 1974), in which private ownership, urban development and crime are ingeniously connected by the filmmakers. The film is told from the perspective of a historical house in Amsterdam, which starts a monologue, declaring itself the product of raw materials and labor. It elaborates on its own history, which is intertwined with private interests of the owners of the building. The film proceeds to a pantomime scene with archetypes of a worker acting out the process of production and a capitalist collecting the surplus value of the worker’s labor. Is it not Marx who states that class positions are mere abstract categories? An individual capitalist is only a personification of an economic category.25One such example can be found in the preface to the first edition of Capital vol 1, Marx writes: “[I]ndividuals are dealt with here only insofar as they are the personifications of economic categories, the bearers [Trager] of particular class-relations and interests. My standpoint, from which the development of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he remains[.]” Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy  volume 1 (London: Penguin Publishing 1976), 93. Is pantomime not the perfect form to present such an abstraction? When the worker objects, the capitalist quickly puts on, in turn: a habit with a cross, a jabot and finally a police uniform to suppress the worker’s rebellion, revealing that these authorities are mere capitalist cosplay. When in the final Hollywood-style scene the capitalist hires a criminal to burn down the house, to free up the lot for new development better serving his private interests, the road from abstraction to concretion is completed and concepts such as private ownership are linked to urban change and crime. The house thus exemplifies the functioning of capitalism, especially the practice of getting rich through speculation, and is a plea for the film’s motto that “buildings are of use to many people, not a few.”

At first sight, films like these seem interesting as formal experiments, but outdated and overly simplified as interpretations of the world. But it is exactly the relationship between form and theoretical content that the collective experiments offer a way forward. In order to understand private interest within society, and to act upon it, abstractions are needed. What appears at the surface, and what might look superficial, is related to underlying economic and political principles, which the collective has translated into visual form. It is precisely this that can hold relevance for film practitioners, political theorists and activists today.

The (changing) role of film in urban development

As an Amsterdam-based film collective, the ASJ mainly produced films about Amsterdam – with urban renewal, real estate speculation and social housing being major themes. After World War II, the Netherlands faced a significant housing shortage. In the 1950s and 1960s, this had led to extensive construction projects; large-scale housing estates appeared in Amsterdam West, similar to those built in Rotterdam and other big cities. In the 1970s, neighbouring towns were also included in the plans; Purmerend and Amstelveen became ‘growth centres’ that had to provide a housing alternative for residents from Amsterdam. The suburban, single-family house with a garden became the new ideal, to counterbalance the dilapidated upstairs apartment in the late nineteenth-century neighbourhoods. As ownership of cars had drastically increased, while infrastructure had been improved accordingly, travel time was reduced to acceptable proportions. The very first ASJ production, Overloop = Sloop (1974, ASJ 1, ‘Overflow = Demolition’) deals with this issue.

The film tells the story of an inhabitant of Purmerend who commutes to his work in Amsterdam every day. There is no place for him to live in the city anymore, because the demolition and renewal of old residential areas has not been able to supply sufficient and appropriate housing. On the contrary, the number of new homes is smaller and the rents are higher. The ones who profit are the speculators and developers, as shown in hilarious fictionalized scenes. Competing with each other, they build the inner city full of hotels, office buildings, retail properties and parking garages and make huge benefits doing so. The citizens are banned to satellite towns. Overflow = Demolition is a sharp indictment of this development, but missed its mark with its intended audience. They judged the film as too abstract and offering no alternative. It showed a problem that they knew all too well; the film would have been better shown to the high-ups responsible for this situation: the officials at City Hall and the state policy makers in The Hague.26Archief Amsterdam Stadsjournaal (in progress), Eye Filmmuseum: transcriptions of the discussion about ASJ Overloop = Sloop (ASJ 1).

As a result, ASJ decided to collaborate with residents, and began to make films for specific target groups. It meant important changes in conception, form and approach: film is no longer a tool to educate in an abstract way, but to help people achieve their aims, by showing examples and giving them the opportunity to speak for themselves. It marks the start of the collective’s second stage.

Overloop = Sloop / Overflow = Demolition (ASJ 1, 1974) – film still: developers are playing with the city.
Halffabrikaat (Semi-finished products)

In the early years, the ASJ filmmakers frequently attended screenings of theirs films, to explain their intentions, clarify the films, and to discuss them. But also later, ASJ deemed it important to have post-screening discussions with the audience, to engage and politically activate them – the so-called “film act” known from militant cinema.27Hupperetz, “Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms,” 51. Many of these discussions have been recorded and transcribed, and some of them were published too.28Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, Een poging om film weer onder de mensen brengen (Amsterdam: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1976). As such, the films can be described as halffabrikaat, or “semi-finished product”, a concept coined by film historian Karel Dibbets regarding silent films that only became an ‘end-product’ when “music, sound effects, variety acts and sometimes a lecturer accompanied the films to make a full cinema show”.29Dibbets, Karel. Sprekende films. De komst van de geluidsfilm in Nederland 1928–1933 (Otto Cramwinckel Uitgever, Amsterdam, 1993), 77. Translation by the authors. In a similar fashion, ASJ’s films only became finished products when discussed with audiences. This does not mean, however, that the films were unfinished in terms of issues addressed, their style or rhetorical structure – being aspects the collective always tried to improve, for which the discussions with the audience also served as feedback. In fact, the ASJ, with several members having studied at the Netherlands Film Academy, was keen to make their political films aesthetically attractive.

The ASJ was not the only collective that found post-screening discussions of paramount importance. Other Dutch collectives preceded them, such as De Kritiese Filmers (‘The Critical Filmmakers’), founded in 1970 in Breda, and Leonard Henny’s film group of the Sociological Institute Utrecht, which morphed into the collective De Rode Lantaren (‘The Red Lantern’).30Ludo Korteman, “Het nieuwe filmen,” Skrien 40/41 (January/February 1974): 43-44. A production of the latter is, for example, Leve het geld, weg met de mensen (‘Long Live the Money, Away with the People’, 1973), about the urban renewal (stadssanering) of Utrecht and other cities, made together with residents. One of the filmmakers, Ludo Korteman, wrote in Skrien: “Now that the film is finished, it is entirely available to local residents, who can decide for themselves whether and how to use it as a weapon in their struggle”.31Korteman, “Het nieuwe filmen,” 44. In a similar vein, ASJ produced the film De De Dapperbuurt: Om elke centimeter wordt gevochten (1975, ASJ 6, ‘De Dapperbuurt: Every Inch is Fought For’), about a late nineteenth century working class neighbourhood in Amsterdam East. The film was also made in collaboration with residents, united in neighbourhood committee De Sterke Arm (‘The Strong Arm’), fighting against demolition of their neighbourhood and resisting forced relocation. The film does not focus on the achieved results, but shows the difficult process of participation and resistance. Residents demand a say in the making of the plans and to avoid an increase of rents. The film was similarly a call to arms, and intended to set an example for the political struggle against urban renewal in other neighbourhoods too, in Amsterdam and elsewhere. Like several other ASJ films, the film ends with footage of a demonstration, to emphasize that collectively one can make a difference. As halffabrikaat, it was successful as such, as it helped to propel a broader movement working towards another kind of urban renewal, realizing the latent ‘other half’ of the film.

De Dapperbuurt (ASJ 6, 1975) – image from publicity material.
Presentation: for a healthy city

Within the ASJ, students acting as interns mainly carried out and researched its screening practices, as a matter of ‘political education’.32Joke Bergshoeff and Minke van Putten, Beeldvorming van intellektuelen, doelgroepen, politieke film: Vijf jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (Internship report, Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Vakgroep Andragologie en Sociale Pedagogiek, 1981); Liesje Croles and Eva Post, Een mooie vertoning! Verslag van een stage bij het Amsterdams Stadsjournaal seizoen ’77-’78, oftewel: Tussen Gerhard en Gerrard; Jan van Amerongen, Film als vormingsmiddel: Een beschouwing over de theorie en praktijk van het Amsterdams stadsjournaal, Filmprojekt Boerengroep Wageningen, De Rode Lantaarn Utrecht; oftewel: Een poging om wetenschap weer onder de filmers te brengen (Spanga: [s.n.], 1976); Robert Jaspers Focks, Verslag van een onderzoek naar het filmgebruik in het vormingswerk (Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1981). Among them was Bert Dingerink (also a member of the current research team), who was active at ASJ from September 1977 till July 1979. He studied sociology, with a minor in education,33More specifically, in Dutch: voorlichtingskunde, see: Anne van den Ban, Inleiding tot de voorlichtingskunde, 7th ed. (Meppel: Boom, 1985). at what is now called Wageningen University & Research.34Van den Ban, Inleiding. He promoted the use of the documentary Lijf en Leden, Gezondheidszorg in de Wijken (ASJ 16, ‘Body and Limbs: Healthcare in the Neighbourhoods’), accompanied film screenings for different target groups and on different locations, in cities and on the countryside, and moderated and analyzed discussions among audience members after the screenings.

Although Lijf and Leden is generally considered one of the weaker films of the ASJ, being rather loose and sloppy, it is all the more revealing for how such a film can be understood in the political context of the 1970s, when it served a practical purpose and aimed for social change. Lijf en leden promotes the development of community based health care centres as opposed to individually operating healthcare workers. The centres promoted multidisciplinary approaches to health and health care through cooperation, enabled deeper understanding of health issues from different angles and in a socio-economic context, and in some areas were actively promoted through citizen participation and grassroot initiatives. Following the approach of De Dapperbuurt (ASJ 6), the film presents the case of a centre in Amsterdam North, to set an example for other neighbourhoods, how residents can change health care.

The screening of Lijf en leden led to animated discussions among residents of neighbourhoods, women groups, and even students in architecture concerned with the design of healthcare facilities. About ten of these discussions were recorded and written down by Dingerink, as material for developing an instruction brochure to accompany the film, published in July 1979. This brochure provides background information about the ASJ and about primary healthcare. It contains instructions and practical advice on how to use the film effectively, in combination with other communication tools, for different goals and target groups, in different situations, including more extensive projects. Within the current research project this booklet has been found back in the collection of the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision.35Bert Dingerink, Begeleidingsbrochure bij ‘Lijf en Leden’, een film over wijkgezondheidszorg. Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1979. This was a lucky find, which highlights the problem of material being dispersed across institutions, and the archival challenge of preserving the context of such films, necessary to understand them as halffabrikaat. Even when the ASJ gradually left the fierce Marxist debates behind and passed through a ‘practice turn’,36Michiel Leezenberg, Wetenschapsfilosofie voor geesteswetenschappen, 3rd. ed. (Amsterdam: University Press, 2017), 283–300. the production, distribution and screening of the films remained focused on social change in the city in a progressive direction.

Politics of metadata

A major challenge of the ASJ project has been the shared custodianship over the records (films and documentation), which complicates opening up this collection to a broader audience. The collection is currently spread out over three archives, the Eye Filmmuseum, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, and the Amsterdam City Archives (Amsterdam Stadsarchief, SAA). Among these institutions, there is limited knowledge of who has what material, as not all available material, including negatives, had previously been described. In terms of cataloguing, each institute has its own approach and focus, and the level of description may differ. The lack of coordination and cross-referencing affects access, as users are not aware of the connections between the films and the ASJ collection as a whole.37Meg Weijers, “Het Amsterdams Stadsjournaal: The Archival Contextualization of Dutch Political Films from the 1970s and 1980s” (MA Thesis, Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image, University of Amsterdam, 2023). Hence, the ASJ project acts upon a need for collaboration between archives, working towards standardisation of metadata concerning dispersed collections.38 Amsterdams Stadsarchief, “Collectiebeheer,” 6 June 2023, Last access: 17 April 2024. https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/organisatie/blog-bronnen-bytes/collectiebeheer/

The SAA plays a pivotal role in this joint effort, as it has the majority of the ASJ films and its negatives. Cataloguing at the SAA is carried out according to classical archival cataloguing principles. An archival description at the SAA is typically layered. In the case of the ASJ, an overall description is given in which the film collective is described, and at the subordinate inventory level the films are separately described. It has been common practice at the SAA to describe a record from an allegedly “objective perspective”. Title, genre, makers, provenance, type and state of the material are registered, while the catalogue usually provides information on subject, date, persons, and locations as well. At the SAA there is currently a shift in cataloguing policy, towards including more subjective and contextual descriptions, which allows for different perspectives, aiming for inclusion and diversity. Within the ASJ project, the adding of certain terminology is therefore also being discussed, to cater for a contemporary audience.

The SAA has recently implemented Records in Contexts (RiC) as its new description standard.39Amsterdams Stadsarchief, “Records in Context (11): Versie 1.0 gelanceerd!”, 19 March 2024. Last access: 17 April 2024, https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/organisatie/blog-bronnen-bytes/records-contexts-(11)-versie-1-0/ This is still at an early stage, but it is expected to enable the linking of metadata available at different institutions, providing different contexts on the same records.40Stadsarchief Amsterdam, “Metadata en Linked Data: The Show Must Go On.” 23 October 2023. Last access: 17 April 2024, https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/organisatie/blog-bronnen-bytes/metadata-linked-data-the-show-goes-on!/ This is also important within the larger perspective of mapping the field of political film collectives in the 1970s and 1980s, in which the Eye Filmmuseum is tasked with bringing together different stakeholders, including different city archives. The concerted efforts regarding information management are complemented by further research and discussion, to make informed choices in regard to preservation and digitisation, and presentation strategies as well. Plans are being made, by the different partners involved, to make the collections more visible through exhibitions, onsite and online. This includes a major exhibition about the ASJ at the Amsterdam City Archive, and a film programme in their cinema, scheduled for the fall of 2025, which will pay attention to the principles addressed in the previous sections, and the specific social groups and movements present in the films.

Conclusion

Considering how political films could be retrieved, archived, contextualised and be brought into present discourses, focused on the city, this article has examined the Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, paying attention their ideology, its application to the production and presentation of the films, their role in urban development, and how these aspects can inform metadata practices and curatorial efforts. This case study has shown that a collective might not be a uniform body, as it has been learning, growing and changing over time, through feedback and self-reflection. This complicates its archiving. The films are not merely (archival) objects; what counts most is their discursive nature, as halffabrikaat, and as part of ongoing social and urban developments. While the films are a lens through which history can be seen, the films themselves were also based on historical analyses, while at the same time they have intervened in historical processes too. Moreover, within a collection, each film also provides context for the others, adding layers of understanding, and revealing each film’s multidirectionality. That is: out of a film’s activist and formal potential, not least as halffabrikaat, only certain lines of thought, expression and action have unfolded. With each film, there is still room for further elaboration and “pluralisation,” while rethinking the “societal embeddedness”.41Viviane Frings‑Hessami, “The Societal Embeddedness of Records.”

Different stages have been distinguished in the development of ASJ, which, however, do not simply show a linear evolution. These stages exist within larger historical cycles, within (superficially) changing environments. Looking at the corpus of films the ASJ produced in its ten years of existence it is therefore striking how relevant they still are today, especially in an age where we are witnessing renewed activism. Some of the topics raised by the ASJ will instantly be recognised by a contemporary generation of activists: housing shortage, environmental issues, inequality, migration politics and exploitation of humans and resources. Also, a parallel can be drawn between ASJ’s criticism of capitalism and the current critique of neoliberalism. If we look at the films the ASJ directly or indirectly made about the many problems of living in the city (in their case Amsterdam), we can only conclude that a new generation of activists, filmmakers and curators will find them instructive; this provides a reason for screening them again, 50 years later. Moreover, showing the work of the Amsterdams Stadsjournaal will also enable connections to be drawn with collectives elsewhere, from different cities and countries, as part of broader networks. This can inspire new forms of exchange and collaboration,42Cf.“[M]aintaining these [precarious archival] practices would include nourishing relations within and outside the archives, attending to the archival material, and building connections among the archival initiatives and other agents.” Çelikaslan, “Found or Lost?,” 317. to foster solidarity and change.43Cf. Kokotović, “Archival Film Practice,” 174. Cf. “[R]eaching out to old and new communities is necessary for the reanimation and recontextualization of a militant cinema network.” Hupperetz, “Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms,” 60. It will help to understand today’s potential of the collectives, and by extension the archives, not merely as chroniclers of urban history and social development, but also as agents of change, while learning through it, to rethink and rewrite history.44Cf. “To curate from the archive is to decide whose history matters in the present.” Hennefeld and Horak, “Why We Curate,” 8.


Contributors: Rommy Albers, Suzan Crommelin, Bert Dingerink, Floris Paalman, Andrei Vilcov, André Waardenburg, Meg Weijers

Notes

Notes
1 Besides multiple articles, many books have been published about it, focused on specific movements, filmmakers, countries or themes, including publications by Bloomsbury (London/New York), e.g., Sue Clayton and Laura Mulvey, Other Cinemas: Politics, Culture and Experimental Film in the 1970s (2017); Rachel Garfield, Experimental Filmmaking and Punk: Feminist Audio Visual Culture in the 1970s and 1980s (2021); Ewa Mazierska and Lars Kristensen, eds., Third Cinema, World Cinema and Marxism (2020), as well as publications by Boydell and Brewer (Martlesham), e.g., Ros Gray, Cinemas of the Mozambican Revolution: Anti-Colonialism, Independence and Internationalism in Filmmaking, 1968-1991 (2020); Melissa Thackway and Jean-Marie Teno. Reel Resistance: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Teno (2023); Christina Gerhardt and Marco Abel, Celluloid Revolt: German Screen Cultures and the Long 1968 (2019), besides many others, e.g., Morgan Adamson, Enduring Images: A Future History of New Left Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Michael Goddard, Guerrilla Networks: An Anarchaeology of 1970s Radical Media Ecologies (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018); Andrew Nette and Samm Deighan, eds. Revolution in 35mm: Political Violence and Resistance in Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse, 1960-1990 (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2024).
2 For example: Activating the Archive, Eye Filmmuseum (i.c.w. University of Amsterdam), 26-29 May 2018, https://www.eyefilm.nl/programma/conferentie-2018/95194; Radicals – Orphan Film Symposium, Austrian Film Museum, Vienna (i.c.w. New York university), June 7 & 8, 2019, https://orphanfilmsymposium.blogspot.com/2019/05/; Archives/Counter Archives – Orphan Film Symposium, Concordia University, Montreal (i.c.w. New York University), 15-18 June 2022, https://counterarchive.ca/orphan-film-symposium-registration-and-program; Visions of Life Symposium: Utopian Dreams, Revolutionary Filmmaking & The Politics of the Film Archive in Africa, The Harvard University Center for African Studies, 31 March – April 1 2022, https://africa.harvard.edu/event/visions-life-symposium-utopian-dreams-revolutionary-filmmaking-politics-film; Workshop: Transnational Film Archives and the Politics of Exclusion – After Accumulation, Sinema Transtopia, Berlin (i.c.w. Freie Universität), 20 November 2023), https://www.temporal-communities.de/events/workshop-politics-of-inclusion.html; International Seminar on Archives and Counter-Archives: Image Politics and Migration, Getulio Vargas Foundation, Rio de Janeiro (i.c.w. PUC-RJ and UEL), 6-10 May 2024, https://cpdoc.fgv.br/en/events/counter-archives-seminar; Archives of Radical Cinema – Radical Film Network, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (i.c.w. Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Research Council of Finland), 19-22 June 2024, https://radicalfilmnetwork.com/conferences/madrid-2024/.
3 Sima Kokotović, “Archival Film Practice Behind Off Frame: Unravelling Cinematic Solidarities in the Palestinian Struggle for Liberation,” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 64.1 (Spring 2023), 156-179 [158].
4 Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak, “Why We Curate Feminist Film Archives,” Feminist Media Histories, 10.2-3 (2024): 3.
5 Cf. Kelly R. Haydon, The Archival Status of the Newsreel Collection in Care of Third World Newsreel: A Mid-term Project Report (New York: Activist Archivists, 2013), 7-8. <krhaydon.weebly.com › uploads › 2/6/9>
6 Özge Çelikaslan, “Found or Lost? Turkey’s Vulnerable Film and Video Heritage,” in Accidental Archivism: Shaping Cinema’s Futures with Remnants of the Past, eds. Stefanie Schulte Strathaus and Vinzenz Hediger (Lüneburg: Meson Press, 2023), 307-318.
7 Ibid.
8 Luna Hupperetz, “Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms: Restoring a Militant Cinema Network,” The Moving Image 22.1 (Spring 2022): 46-64.
9 This is a key idea within the Records Continuum Model, see: Viviane Frings‑Hessami, “The Societal Embeddedness of Records: Teaching the Meaning of the Fourth Dimension of the Records Continuum Model in Different Cultural Contexts,” Archival Science 21 (2021), 139–154.
10 Hennefeld and Horak, “Why We Curate,” 6. Cf. Lee Douglas, “The Probable Revolution: Archival Images, (Im)materiality, and the Reactivation of Portuguese Militant Cooperative Cinema,” Romanic Review 114.2 (2023): 360-379 [364].
11, 41 Viviane Frings‑Hessami, “The Societal Embeddedness of Records.”
12 This ‘map’ entails an archival component too, seen from today’s perspective, building on the already existing ‘map’ of the landscape that was written at that time, by Karel Dibbets, “De ontwikkeling van het vrije filmcircuit,” in: Matheid, Hoezo? Tweeëntwintig teksten over kunst en politiek ’70…’80, eds. Carry van Lakerveld and Joost Smiers (Amsterdam: Sjaloom, 1981), 128–136.
13 [1] International Institute of Social History, Archief Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms, ARCH02599 Folder 001 “Correspondentie 1972–1977” [Documentation Rencontres 77].
14 The team has studied the available materials at hand, and has regularly organized screenings for invited guests, among them the filmmakers and other stakeholders as ‘focus groups.
15 he team has studied the available materials at hand, and has regularly organized screenings for invited guests, among them the filmmakers and other stakeholders as ‘focus groups.’
16 Haydon, The Archival Status.
17 A comprehensive overview of the content of all films can be found in Jan Heijs, 10 Jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1974-1984. (Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1984), 80–85.
18 Periodically, ASJ mailed approximately 9,000 addresses of potential exhibitors all over the Netherlands, which was still labour intensive and expensive. Source: Archief Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (work in progress), Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.
19 ASJ usually recorded the discussions and also kept records of the numbers of screenings per film, and the organisations and venues that screened the films: Jan Heijs, 10 jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1974–1984 (Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1984): 90–91. For specific data: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, Vertonings-gegevens 1978 en 1979: … een verslag van film weer onder de mensen brengen (Amsterdam: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1980); – Vertonings-gegevens 1980-1981 (Amsterdam: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1981).
20 The collective extensively discussed their methods and motivations in a report published after the release of their third film. See: Annette Apon, Gerrard Verhage, et al, Een poging om film weer onder de mensen te brengen (Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1976), 3–10.
21 Idem.
22 Besides Apon, several other ASJ members were also editors of Skrien. The year 1973 was particularly heavy on theory that shaped the methods of the collective. Skrien 32, 33, 34 and 35 contain articles on Russian formalism. Skrien 33 also includes references to Louis Althusser, while 38 and 39 are dedicated to the debates between Berthold Brecht and Georg Lukacs.
23 An example of a significant debate can be found in Skrien 75 (May 1978), in which journalist Lidy van Marissing critiques the film 10.000 Megawatt. It includes a response by screenwriter Gerard D’Olivat (34-35). In Skrien 78 (September 1978) Helle Alofs reopens the debate, followed by a response of ASJ member Annette Apon (30-32). In Skrien 79 (October 1978), Gerrard Verhage defends the collective’s stylistic switch in the following film De Koppelbazen. This switch marked a new phase in the collective’s stylistic decisions and production practices (9-15).
24 Jan Heijs provides a great account of the evolution of the collective. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are dedicated to the three distinct phases mentioned. Jan Heijs, 10 Jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1974–1984 (Amsterdam, Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal 1984), 19–66.
25 One such example can be found in the preface to the first edition of Capital vol 1, Marx writes: “[I]ndividuals are dealt with here only insofar as they are the personifications of economic categories, the bearers [Trager] of particular class-relations and interests. My standpoint, from which the development of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he remains[.]” Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy  volume 1 (London: Penguin Publishing 1976), 93.
26 Archief Amsterdam Stadsjournaal (in progress), Eye Filmmuseum: transcriptions of the discussion about ASJ Overloop = Sloop (ASJ 1).
27 Hupperetz, “Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms,” 51.
28 Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, Een poging om film weer onder de mensen brengen (Amsterdam: Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1976).
29 Dibbets, Karel. Sprekende films. De komst van de geluidsfilm in Nederland 1928–1933 (Otto Cramwinckel Uitgever, Amsterdam, 1993), 77. Translation by the authors.
30 Ludo Korteman, “Het nieuwe filmen,” Skrien 40/41 (January/February 1974): 43-44.
31 Korteman, “Het nieuwe filmen,” 44.
32 Joke Bergshoeff and Minke van Putten, Beeldvorming van intellektuelen, doelgroepen, politieke film: Vijf jaar Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (Internship report, Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Vakgroep Andragologie en Sociale Pedagogiek, 1981); Liesje Croles and Eva Post, Een mooie vertoning! Verslag van een stage bij het Amsterdams Stadsjournaal seizoen ’77-’78, oftewel: Tussen Gerhard en Gerrard; Jan van Amerongen, Film als vormingsmiddel: Een beschouwing over de theorie en praktijk van het Amsterdams stadsjournaal, Filmprojekt Boerengroep Wageningen, De Rode Lantaarn Utrecht; oftewel: Een poging om wetenschap weer onder de filmers te brengen (Spanga: [s.n.], 1976); Robert Jaspers Focks, Verslag van een onderzoek naar het filmgebruik in het vormingswerk (Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1981).
33 More specifically, in Dutch: voorlichtingskunde, see: Anne van den Ban, Inleiding tot de voorlichtingskunde, 7th ed. (Meppel: Boom, 1985).
34 Van den Ban, Inleiding.
35 Bert Dingerink, Begeleidingsbrochure bij ‘Lijf en Leden’, een film over wijkgezondheidszorg. Amsterdam: Stichting Amsterdams Stadsjournaal, 1979.
36 Michiel Leezenberg, Wetenschapsfilosofie voor geesteswetenschappen, 3rd. ed. (Amsterdam: University Press, 2017), 283–300.
37 Meg Weijers, “Het Amsterdams Stadsjournaal: The Archival Contextualization of Dutch Political Films from the 1970s and 1980s” (MA Thesis, Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image, University of Amsterdam, 2023).
38 Amsterdams Stadsarchief, “Collectiebeheer,” 6 June 2023, Last access: 17 April 2024. https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/organisatie/blog-bronnen-bytes/collectiebeheer/
39 Amsterdams Stadsarchief, “Records in Context (11): Versie 1.0 gelanceerd!”, 19 March 2024. Last access: 17 April 2024, https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/organisatie/blog-bronnen-bytes/records-contexts-(11)-versie-1-0/
40 Stadsarchief Amsterdam, “Metadata en Linked Data: The Show Must Go On.” 23 October 2023. Last access: 17 April 2024, https://www.amsterdam.nl/stadsarchief/organisatie/blog-bronnen-bytes/metadata-linked-data-the-show-goes-on!/
42 Cf.“[M]aintaining these [precarious archival] practices would include nourishing relations within and outside the archives, attending to the archival material, and building connections among the archival initiatives and other agents.” Çelikaslan, “Found or Lost?,” 317.
43 Cf. Kokotović, “Archival Film Practice,” 174. Cf. “[R]eaching out to old and new communities is necessary for the reanimation and recontextualization of a militant cinema network.” Hupperetz, “Cineclub Vrijheidsfilms,” 60.
44 Cf. “To curate from the archive is to decide whose history matters in the present.” Hennefeld and Horak, “Why We Curate,” 8.
Political Film Archives Amsterdam. "Archives for Change: Political Films and the City – The Case of the Amsterdams Stadsjournaal (1974-1984)." Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture 9, no. 2 (Jun 2024).
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.