Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The European Film Gateway

Georg Eckes and Monika Segbert describe a Best Practice Network funded under the eContentplus Programme of the European Commission, which is building a portal for access to film archival resources in Europe.

The European Film Gateway (EFG) [1] is one in a series of projects funded by the European Commission, under the eContentplus Programme, with the aim of contributing to the development and further enhancement of Europeana - the European digital library, museum and archive [2]. Officially launched on 20 November 2008, the prototype Europeana service provides access to about four million digital objects from archives, audio-visual archives, museums and libraries across Europe. According to the European Commission's set target, by 2010 the content of Europeana will attain 10 million digital resources.

EFG started in September 2008 and during the next three years will work towards the development of an online portal offering integrated access to more than 700,000 digitised objects from Europe's film archives and cinémathèques. The gateway will be linked to Europeana, thus considerably increasing its collections and enriching them with a popular form of cultural expression and of entertainment such as film. It is hoped the Gateway will serve to attract a much wider audience to the service.

The EFG consortium consists of 20 partner institutions, including 14 film archives and cinémathèques, from 14 European countries. The European Film Gateway project is supported by ACE (Association des Cinémathèques Européennes) and the EDL Foundation and it is co-ordinated by the Deutsches Filminstitut - DIF e. V. (Frankfurt).

screenshot (80KB) : Figure 1 : Screenshot of the EFG Web site home page

Figure 1: Screenshot of the EFG Web site home page

Why a European Film Gateway?

European digitised collections of moving images and cinema-related material are growing fast, as a result of the digitisation efforts of both individual archival institutions and of co-operative projects. The aim is to ensure long-term preservation of these resources and to increase their accessibility. However, many of these materials are inaccessible because they are stored on local servers or on physical storage media. Where digitised resources are available online, they are often only accessible via special project-related Internet portals or Web sites of the digitising institutions. This lack of cohesion prevents domain-specific search and access across the various repositories, institutions and countries.

In contrast to the European library sector, common interoperability standards have not yet spread widely in the film archival community. While many libraries and also many non-film archives are already OAI-PMH/Z39.50/SRU-compliant, most of the film archives lack these interfaces and protocols. Similarly, unlike libraries, most film archive institutions still work with in-house cataloguing standards. Moreover, film archival digital resources consist of a wide variety of media, including videos, photos, sound material, text, etc. which in most cases are described with different metadata standards.

Nowadays, a considerable number of information repositories about works of film and the persons involved in their creation (e.g. online filmographies) are available online. However, they are all kept separately. A combined search across these databases is only possible via search engines such as Google which, obviously, do not provide optimal results, especially when searching specific resources from film archives or cinémathèques. Consequently, there is a strong need in the film archive sector for a trans-institutional and international common registry of collections, items and film-specific authority files.

Copyright in the film sector is a particularly complex issue because of the fact that there is no single creator of a film, it being the result of different layers of creative work [3]. Furthermore, film archives are currently facing a number of challenges:

Europeana depends to a great extent on the quality of the metadata contributed by its network partners. Experience gained during the work on the Europeana prototype launched in November 2008 shows that the direct integration of individual institutions is very complex and labour-intensive. Hence, a network of 'aggregator' projects has been put into place to solve domain-specific interoperability problems before contributing metadata to Europeana. The rationale of these projects is systematically to involve experts from the four domains (libraries, archives, museums and audiovisual archives) to streamline the workflow of metadata integration into Europeana and, consequently, to achieve the highest possible degree of metadata quality and homogeneity. The European Film Gateway is one such aggregator project aiming to aggregate digital objects with their description and access information for Europeana.

diagram (107KB) : Figure 2 : ‘Aggregators’ contributing to Europeana

Figure 2: 'Aggregators' contributing to Europeana

Key Issues Addressed

In order to achieve its goal, the European Film Gateway will need to tackle two major issues during its three-year duration: interoperability (technical, syntactic and semantic) and copyright. Besides being of crucial importance to film archives, these issues represent key challenges to most cultural institutions as well as to individual or collaborative initiatives seeking to provide integrated access to their digital resources.


One of the objectives of EFG is to achieve consensus amongst the participating institutions about technical and semantic interoperability standards and developed specifications.

The EFG technical interoperability working group, set up at the start-up of the project, will develop concrete technological solutions for aggregating content from heterogeneous European audiovisual archives. A federated approach will be pursued, meaning that the digital items will remain in their original place, while the metadata – object descriptions, access information and, where available, rights information – will be gathered in a central index. The EFG application will be built in the Service application framework of the open source 'DRIVER Infrastructure' [4]. This has been chosen for its effective harvesting and aggregative functionalities, sustainability properties and high scalability in respect of the number of archive providers. The DRIVER software will be customised to comply with the EFG system's requirements.

During the first year of the project, a common EFG metadata interoperability schema will be defined and adopted. This will build on existing standards and object- modelling frameworks such as the MPEG family, MXF, CIDOC-CRM, FRBR, DC, EAD, etc. The intention is to use the results of the standardisation work carried out by various European film institutions (Technical Committee CEN/TC 372) during the last three years for the description of cinematographic works [5]. Because film institutions hold a varied range of materials including moving images, text, pictures, sound and books, we will need a wide spectrum of standards and specifications to implement the EFG metadata schema.

We will evaluate approaches to harvesting-based metadata interoperability (e.g. SRU, OAI-PMH) and will select the one most suited to our requirements. Mappings between native metadata schema and the common interoperability schema will be individually developed in close co-operation with the participating archives. We will supply a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to the archival operators for tagging archival resources with filmographic authority file identifiers. Finally, the project will develop best practice procedures and guidelines for the inclusion of collections in the EFG portal which will help the partners and any external archive institution to join the service.

In order to make content and information available and interoperable in the EFG infrastructure, a minimum set of rules for semantic interoperability will have to be agreed by the project partners. This includes, for instance, the character set used (preferably Unicode) and the adoption of certain standards such as ISO 3166 for names of countries, ISO 639 or RFC 3066 for names of languages, ISO 8601 for dates and ISO 15938-5 (a.k.a. MPEG-7 MDS) for running time. Furthermore, we will define and adopt controlled vocabularies for descriptive categories with a limited set of possible values such as credit and cast functions, version types, film genres etc. For this task, we can exploit existing sources such as P/META and the FIAF Glossary of Filmographic Terms [6]. Last but not least, free entries of text and numbers, for example, film titles and person names, will have to obey a minimum degree of conformity retrieved from cataloguing specifications such as FIAF cataloguing rules [7] or AACR2 [8] - and perhaps in the future, RDA.

This will be followed by the actual work of filmographic editing, authority record matching and archival metadata tagging. The result will be a common filmography to serve as the basis for a comprehensive authority file of European works of film and film-related persons. The creation of a single registry of information from different filmographies will provide an invaluable resource for searching and retrieving cinema-related content.

The project will use a number of existing film-related information repositories including the German National Filmography [9], filmarchives online [10], the Joint European Filmography (JEF) [11], filmographic databases and catalogues of the Czech National Film Archive, the Danish Film Institute [12], etc. However, a common filmography cannot be achieved by simply pooling the metadata from these sources into one system. The sources will be carefully analysed in order to identify double entries which will have to be consolidated. Much of the intellectual work of matching identical persons, corporate bodies and film works will be done manually. The diversity of languages and cataloguing traditions within Europe will make this task quite challenging: the specific skills and expertise of the EFG partners in this area and the use of smart software tools will provide the right balance to achieve this goal.

IPR Issues

Providing a sustainable and legally viable framework for the long-term storage, distribution and availability of digital content from the participating institutions is a further goal of the European Film Gateway. In particular, the EFG work in this area aims to achieve the following key objectives:

Within the network of EFG members, a thorough evaluation of the existing and varying copyright legislation in their respective states is currently being carried out to prepare the ground for developing best practice in the handling of IPR issues. Drawing on the extensive experience gained by the network's participants, this evaluation should lead to the issuing of guidelines for rights clearance to be used by film archives which work with digitised content in the public domain or owned by third parties. Since the rights to most moving images, especially feature films, are owned by third parties, EFG will also consult representatives of rights holders' associations and major commercial as well as non-commercial rights holders' organisations. The aim of these consultations is to reach agreement on clearance procedures and to achieve mutual consent between the archives and the rights holders on Web-based access to digital content held by film archives and cinémathèques in Europe.

Special emphasis will be placed on the question of orphan works. Orphan works are copyright-protected works, the rights owner(s) of which cannot be identified or located by someone who wants to make use of the work in a way that it requires the consent of the rights owner [13]. The orphan works issue is one of the most pressing problems for the film archival community in its efforts to make its collections accessible, usable and exploitable in a digital environment. EFG will evaluate and discuss several possible solutions including extended collective licensing or limitation-on-remedies. In defining whether a film work can be considered as orphan in order to make lawful use of it, EFG will observe the diligent search guidelines agreed upon between representatives of European rights holders' organisations and cultural institutions [14].

The participation of the EDL Foundation, the governing body of Europeana, as a partner in the project, will ensure that all the above actions in the areas of technical/semantic interoperability and IPR management closely reflect and are in line with Europeana's overall approach.

Steps towards the Development of the Gateway

The work towards the creation of the European Film Gateway began in September 2008 and some progress has already been made.

The project has conducted a series of surveys amongst project partners who will contribute content to the EFG portal. Feedback on cataloguing formats and rules, metadata standards, authority files, as well as on copyright legislation in the individual partners' countries has been collected and discussed during workshops. The project has also gathered and analysed data regarding users and uses of the project partners' existing online services. The results of these surveys will provide essential input to the concrete development of the joint gateway.

Nine of the EFG partner archives were involved in the MEDIA Plus-funded MIDAS Project (January 2006 - January 2009). The result of the MIDAS Project is the Web gateway www.filmarchives-online.eu [10] which provides free access to catalogue information from 17 European film archives. Experience gained in setting up this union catalogue as well as the results from the surveys will provide essential input to the concrete development of the joint European Film Gateway.

A common EFG interoperability schema is currently under development. It is due to be completed by May 2009. This will be followed by the setting up and implementation of transformation filters for the individual participating archives, and thereafter, by the ingestion of metadata into the EFG system. A public beta version of the EFG portal is planned for mid-2010, followed by a period of system refinement and integration of additional collections lasting until August 2011.

To date, the EFG consortium consists of 20 partner institutions, including 14 film archives and cinémathèques, from 14 European countries. Once the interoperability schema is established and import functionalities are implemented, the network will be open to further contributing organisations. The most important technical pre-condition here will be to provide metadata according to the EFG specifications, which will be published on the EFG site.

Conclusion: The Europeana Jigsaw

In three years' time this European digital library, museum and archive will offer access to 10 million digital resources, including film material, books, photos, paintings, sounds, maps, manuscripts, newspapers and archival resources. This will be achieved through the efforts of EFG and a number of related EU-funded projects, which by 2010 will contribute their 'pieces' to the ever-growing Europeana jigsaw.

One of these, EuropeanaLocal is a Best Practice Network, funded under the eContentplus Programme. Its relationship with Europeana is made quite obvious by its name which also clearly indicates the type of institutions involved: local and regional libraries, museums, archives and audio-visual archives which are working together with the final goal of including their collections in Europeana. The project was featured in the previous issue of Ariadne [15].

ATHENA (Access To Cultural Heritage Networks Across Europe) is another new project which focuses on the museum sector. It includes ministries, cultural institutions as well as individual libraries and museums from European member states. Its main objectives are: to support and encourage the participation of museums and related institutions in contributing to Europeana; to identify digital content present in European museums, and; to co-ordinate standards and activities in museums across Europe.

APENET (Archives Portal of Europe on the Internet) will start shortly to develop a multi-language common gateway, providing access to the materials of European archives, supporting, at the same time, the participation of archival heritage institutions in Europeana.

ARROW (Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works towards Europeana), launched in December 2008, will create an infrastructure for the management of any type of rights information, thus facilitating the actual implementation of innovative business models for both digital libraries and private digital content providers. In addition, in line with the recommendation of the European Commission's High Level Expert Group on Digital Libraries, it will create a European distributed registry of orphan works and access to a network of existing clearance centres for works that are out of print.

Another set of 'Europeana' successors will start in 2009 to develop further the Europeana prototype. Amongst them, Europeanav1.0 will be of crucial importance, since it will launch the full Europeana service, implementing new functionalities and solving key operational issues related to its implementation and functioning. The project will also market the service and ensure its sustainability.

Finally, a couple of projects related to film materials are due to start soon: EUScreen will work to make highly interoperable digitised collection of television material available on-line. PrestoPrime will research and develop practical solutions for the long-term preservation of digital media objects and collections as well as making media archives available through Europeana.

Clearly, all these projects will have to tackle the same issues if they are to contribute their resources to Europeana. Similarly to EFG, their work will imply making diverse resources interoperable with each other, compliant with widely acknowledged standards and protocols, and finding adequate solutions and agreements for rights clearance and access to copyrighted materials. Without doubt close collaboration and regular information sharing amongst these projects will be one of the key ingredients to their success.


  1. European Film Gateway http://www.europeanfilmgateway.eu/
  2. Europeana http://europeana.eu/portal/
  3. Copyright clearances in Film, Victoria Lockley Associate, Dorsey & Whitney
  4. DRIVER http://www.driver-repository.eu/
  5. The standard is available in two parts: CSH01001 – 'Film Identification – Minimum metadata set for cinematographic works', containing a minimum set of 16 data elements needed for interoperability of existing cinematographic databases; and CSH01002 – 'Film Identification – Enhancing interoperability of metadata – Element sets and structures', which provides a comprehensive standard on metadata for cataloguing and indexation of cinematographic works, as well as a comprehensive and consistent terminology. CSH01002 has been finished lately and currently undergoes a request for comments from national European standardisation bodies.
    For news about the standard, see http://www.filmstandards.org/
  6. International Federation of Film Archives http://www.fiafnet.org/
  7. Féderation Internationale des Archives du Film, The FIAF Cataloguing rules, Munich/London/New York/Paris, 1991
  8. Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules http://www.aacr2.org/
  9. filmportal http://www.filmportal.de/
  10. filmarchives online http://www.filmarchives-online.eu/
  11. ACE - Association des Cinémathèques Européennes: JEF (Joint European Filmography) http://www.acefilm.de/56.html
  12. Danmarks Nationalfilmografi http://dnfx.dfi.dk/pls/dnf/pwt.page_setup?p_pagename=dnfhome
  13. European Audiovisual Observatory, Audiovisual Archives and the Inability to Clear Rights in Orphan Works, IRISplus Legal Observations,
    Issue 2007-4, p. 1.
  14. A Memorandum of Understanding on Diligent Search Guidelines for Orphan Works has been signed on 4 June 2008:
  15. Rob Davies, "Europeana: An Infrastructure for Adding Local Content",
    Ariadne 57, October 2008 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue57/davies/ EuropeanaLocal http://www.europeanalocal.eu/

Author Details

Georg Eckes
Project manager for Deutsches Filminstitut – DFI

Email: eckes@deutsches-filminstitut.de

Monika Segbert
Director, Eremo srl
International Project Management Advice and Consultancy

Email: monika@eremo.net

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