Fire on the premises of the Digital Audiovision Department of the Slovak Film Institute

    On Tuesday, 20 September 2022, in the early morning hours, a fire broke out on the premises of the Digital Audiovision Department of the Slovak Film Institute (SFI) – an in-house digital restoration centre of the Slovak Film Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia.

    Firefighters were immediately called to the scene. The fire was localized in the basement of the building - in the camera studio and the operational storage room of the digital restoration centre where film materials, which were at that time the subject of digital processing and restoration, stored. There were no employees on the premises when the fire broke out and no one was injured. In cooperation with the Fire and Rescue Service, a fire expert examination was carried out on the site to determine the cause of the fire. The extent of the damage is currently under investigation, and thus its extent cannot yet be determined. The digital restoration centre is situated in the very same building as Kino Lumière, which was not directly affected by the fire.

    "In the first estimates, we hoped that we would be able to re-open Kino Lumière within a few days, however, unfortunately the actual situation is not favourable. The contaminated premises cannot be cleaned in a regular way using water as it would cause irreversible damage to the property. It is necessary to remediate the damage employing professional chemical processes, which will be carried out by a professional company specialised in the remediation of damage after large fires," says Peter Dubecký, Director General of the SFI. All the projection technologies, air conditioning units and air ducts, seats in the screening rooms, walls and floors will have to be subject to cleaning. "

    Way more significant damage than on the ground floor of the Kino Lumière occurred in the basement, directly in the Digital Audiovision Department - the digital restoration centre of the SFI, which is the core workplace for digitisation and digital restoration of the Slovak audiovisual heritage. According to the preliminary findings, the fire originated in an air-conditioning unit, which is now the subject of an expert examination by investigators.

    However, the damage to digitisation and digital restoration technologies is significant. "The affected technologies are currently subjected to the expertise, but due to the aggressive nature of the fire, it is very unlikely that they will be technically fit," says Peter Dubecký. "These are special technologies and there are not many companies in Slovakia that are able provide them. The Digital Audiovision Department was highly professional digitisation and digital restoration workplace, and the state the technology is in after the fire suggests that it will be impossible to return to this activity. The digitization process will not be easy to rebuild and will require large investments," Dubecký explains.

    Soot from the fire has gotten into all the equipment in the workplace, the image and sound scanners are damaged, as are the workstations, and according to Dubecký, they will most likely need to be replaced. The exact scale of damage will only be quantifiable after initial remediation and subsequent prophylaxis and verification of the functionality by the contractors supplying these technologies. "In this context I would like to add that the premises of the digitisation and digital restoration centre and Kino Lumière were visited by the Minister of Culture Natália Milanová who was interested in the consequences of the fire and expressed her support."

    In the temporary storage room where the fire broke out, the film materials currently destined for digitisation and digital restoration were stored. After the fire had been extinguished and the fumes in the affected area had subsided, all the material was brought out of the building. "Thanks to the enormous help of the SFI employees all the materials that we were able to salvage were transported to the Film Laboratories in Zlín, with whom we have a long-standing cooperation in the field of rescue and restoration of audiovisual heritage," explains Dubecký. "As for what was actually damaged or irreversibly destroyed, we need time to be able to evaluate. At the moment we have an operational record of the 35 mm materials that were on the premises when the fire broke out, we are talking here about dozens of films. So far I have no information that the missing components of the film materials cannot be replaced. In cooperation with the laboratories in Zlín we are currently working on a complete inventory of the materials found at the fire site."