Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage
27 October 2020
Mexican poet and former Director-General of UNESCO, Jaime Torres-Bodet, once said that archives are not “vast cemeteries” but places crucial to the “continuity of human conscience”.
Spanning the breadth of history, archives are filled with more than just parchment and paper, they are a treasure trove of infinite variety. All that humanity has ever produced is an archive, from everyday objects to formal documents.
In the long history of recording our human experience, thanks to admirable technical innovations, sounds and images no longer need be ephemeral.
As a duty to future generations, this very specific and exceptional heritage, both fragile and technologically challenging, requires special attention.
This World Day provides an opportunity to highlight such heritage, which is too often unsung due to its ubiquity in our lives.
Too many documents are indeed lost, damaged or erased due to negligence, poor storage practices and obsolete formats or lack of means of reading them. They sometimes even fall victim to conflicting interests.
Their disappearance, however, constitutes a regrettable loss for all the peoples of the world, against which UNESCO is determined to fight.
In 1992, our Organization launched the ambitious Memory of the World Programme, which aims to safeguard documentary heritage in all its forms by closely associating archivists, librarians, as well as heritage and conservation professionals.
In 2001, after years of efforts to find and restore the film reels, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was the first film to be listed on the Memory of the World Register. Now complete and fully digitized, this exceptional testimony to the visual and cinematographic arts, as well as to architecture and urban development, is now accessible to all and preserved for future generations.
This same ambition led us to undertake the digitization of UNESCO’s archives and historical audiovisual collections. This project has resulted in a digital archive of hundreds of thousands of documents, thousands of hours of sound recordings, thousands of photos and many hours of video, all fragments of lives and knowledge testifying to the commitment of entire generations. Digitizing this wide-ranging content pays them tribute and continues their fight for the common good.
The unrelenting audiovisual output and the constant diversification of formats nonetheless require ever increasing technical means and human dedication in order to preserve this extraordinary heritage.
This World Day is therefore an opportunity to redouble our efforts in the preservation of our common audiovisual wealth, which forms an essential part of our shared history.