NFSA CEO Jan Müller on how to save Australia’s audiovisual heritage

09 November, 2017 by Don Groves

NFSA CEO Jan Müller.

More than 800,000 hours of Australian audiovisual content must be digitised before 2025 or it will perish, according to National Film and Sound Archive CEO Jan Müller.


Only about 200,000 hours have been converted to digital so far, which means a prodigious amount of work and resources will be required in the coming years.

One month into his posting, Müller is making digitising his top priority. The Dutch-born archivist aims to form a hub of media preservation partners such as the ABC and other broadcasters, the film industry, libraries with audiovisual collections and the National Archives of Australia.

“It should be a joint task to build a shared national infrastructure for digitising audiovisual heritage,” he tells IF.

“There are so many audiovisual collections spread across the entire country, mostly still analogue, it is very fragmented.

“That needs some clustering and some leadership. We need to digitise as much as possible in the years ahead. At the NFSA we are scaling up, building bigger digitisation capabilities.”

He estimates there are around 60,000 hours of TV programming which need to be digitised, including Neighbours and The Mike Walsh Show, which aired in the 1970s and 80s, initially on the 0/10 Network before moving to Nine.

“If we get the help of some partners to share the common infrastructure we could digitise all the vulnerable material by the end of 2025. But we should start now.”

That timeline is not impossible. A seven-year program to digitise the Netherlands’ audiovisual collection was completed in 2014 at a cost of $A200 million. The NFSA receives about $26 million in funding from the Federal Government each year.

Another of Müller’s objectives is to raise the organisation’s public profile, which means staging more exhibitions at the Canberra HQ as well as touring exhibitions. That activity was cut back after the 2014 Federal Budget cuts which also resulted in staff lay-offs. He expects to make some announcements on those events by mid-2018.

Today the National Portrait Gallery and the NFSA opened the exhibition Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits, which brings to life more than 100 years of Australian cinema stories through the lens of stills photographers.

Müller’s appointment as the third non-Australian to occupy the post in 12 years initially raised hackles in sections of the industry.

While no one questioned the qualifications of Müller, who served as CEO of Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision since 2009, producer Tony Buckley and film and technology consultant Dominic Case among others asked why no Australian resident, born here or overseas, was deemed suitable for the role.

While he understands that some people had doubts over the hiring of another foreign-born person, he says he has been warmly welcomed by colleagues and stakeholders.

He asks simply: “Trust me and give me some time. I know what I’m doing. We have great curators here, specialists in their field. It’s my job to create a vision for the Archive.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the seven-year program to digitise the Netherlands’ audiovisual collection was completed for $A200,000. It was $A200 million.