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In the seventies, the van Leers moved to Jerusalem where they founded the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Initially, the cinematheque was based in Agron House before later relocating to its current residence in Gehenna, established with the generous donation of philanthropist, George Ostrovsky and where later, the film archive was also relocated. Over the years – thanks to its founders’ dedication, and the ongoing support from The Jerusalem Fund, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and the Ostrovsky Family Fund, it grew into the biggest, most prominent film archive not only in Israel but the whole Middle East; an institution in charge of compiling and preserving tens of thousands of Israeli and international films. The archive is currently home to roughly 32,000 film screener copies, 12,000 negatives, 20,000 videotapes, and 2,500 copies of Israeli film works. The films come in a range of formats – both digital and analogue (16mm film, 35mm, Beta, U-matic, etc.) – which in some cases, are the only existing copy anywhere in the world.
Also stored in the archives are genuine holy grails such as film pioneers, the Lumiere Brothers’ ultra-rare footage from when they were filming the landscapes of Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Bethlehem in 1896. These films, shot by the Lumiere Brothers, are considered the first ever video footage of Palestine. The various archive collections combined, make up a puzzle in which the land’s visual and audiovisual history from the late 19th century through to present-day is depicted. Words cannot stress enough the importance of this collection for the State of Israel in particular, and for Jewish heritage as a whole.
The archive serves as Israeli cinema’s official film deposit centre. Copies of both fiction and documentary films made in Israel are left there for preservation and research purposes and are regularly loaned for cinematheque and festival screenings in Israel and around the world, and for a host of other film-themed events. In 1999, the archive was awarded official status when the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) passed the Film Act and ruled that every production that is funded by an Israeli film fund must leave a copy of the film at the Jerusalem archive.
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