Il Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards: Interview with Alexander Horwath

Alexander Horwath is director of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum (the Austrian Film Museum) in Vienna since 2002. Curator and writer on film and visual art, he is the former director of the Viennale
– Vienna International Film Festival. Among his publications are books on New Hollywood Cinema of the 1960s-70s, Austrian avant-garde film, Michael Haneke and Josef von Sternberg’s lost film The Case of Lena Smith.

This year as well you will be a juror for Il Cinema Ritrovato – DVD Awards. In your perspective, what is the aim of this prize and what makes it important?

For me, personally, the aim is simply to highlight some outstanding efforts in this field. Those who are in any way connected to or interested in the area of “film history on home video” should have models,best practices if you like. There are certainly many publications on DVD and BluRay around the world which are good (in the sense of “useful”) for the scholar, curator or cinephile. But these special awards in Bologna should be for those publications that go a little beyond good/useful and can serve as real models for future endeavors.

Each year a large number of great DVDs and Blu-rays participates in this special competition, which is divided in various categories: Best DVD (THE PETER VON BAGH AWARD), Best Blu-ray, Best Special Features, Best Rediscovery of a Forgotten Film, Best DVD Series. How do you select the winners and what makes a product unique?

Well, before our jury work, there is already a selection of roughly 30 or 40 finalists. This pre-selection is made by the Cineteca di Bologna from all entries that are sent in. And then the international jury, in discussing the candidates for the awards, looks for the absolute highlights among these 30 or 40. We mostly try and find the balance between, on the one hand, evaluating the films themselves in terms of their importance (no matter if they are “classics” or “discoveries”) and, on the other hand, evaluating what kind of work went into the DVD presentation as such: the choices made by the publishers as to which version(s) are included and the seriousness and innovative spirit of the surrounding elements like booklet & texts, bonus materials, subtitles.

What do you think about the present and the future of video-distribution specialized in classic films?

There is a growing gap, I think, between quasi-scholarly DVD and Blu-Ray publications and the regular, run-of-the mill home video output of older films. I think the latter will soon be swallowed or made irrelevant by VoD or other forms of direct online distribution. Whereas the former, the quasi-scholarly area with its tendency towards critical commentary, transfer quality and philological approaches, might exist much longer. But if a new legal framework takes hold, trying to adapt to the realities of digital culture, the whole facsimile-type transmission of film history will probably become an online phenomenon only, with no more physical objects to take home. I believe that the projected film event, the experience of cinema in its historical parameters, will exist much longer (mostly as a museum event, of course) than the intermediary, “book-like” culture of VHS, DVD and BluRay. On the one hand, there will be “film history online” – the facsimile or transfer or reproduction version of film history, and on the other hand there will, hopefully, be opportunities to participate in truthful cinematic performances of historical works, to remain attentive to and literally understand the technical-aesthetical system that was called film.