Institut National de l’Audiovisuel

June 13, 2006By Heidi EllisonWhat's New Potpourri

Now Showing on Your Home Computer Screen

May 1968 as seen on French television. © INA.

While politicians and the entertainment industry argue about the right to download music and videos from the Web, France’s Institut National de l’Audiovisuel has taken the revolutionary step of digitizing its archives, putting them online and letting the public download video and audio from the French national broadcasting companies for free.

INA ( made the service available at the end of April and was quickly overwhelmed by users. The site’s capacity has now been upgraded to accommodate the huge number of visitors.

Highlights of news coverage dating from 1914 (silent footage of soldiers in World War I) to 2000 are also available. Among the many moments of history on offer, you can watch Hitler and Franco yukking it up together in a train in 1940, Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the liberation of Paris in 1944.

On the lighter side, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall run from a policeman on a Paris street in 1951 in an obviously staged (and surprisingly badly acted by Bogie) news clip. Another clip from the same year shows that Paris nightlife hasn’t changed that much: the Discothèque on the Rue Saint Benoît didn’t have a bouncer at the door to screen wannabe revelers, but was so exclusive that customers needed a key to get in.

It was expected that users would be most interested in watching the TV news program from the day of their birth in the “Journal de Votre Naissance” section (currently available for certain years only). If you were born on June 27, 1976, for instance, you would learn from the evening news (with its hilariously low-tech production values) that the top story was a heat wave in France, followed by the hijacking of an Air France plane originating in Tel Aviv to Libya. But the most popular feature turns out to be clips from “Les Shadoks,” a cult series of two-minute cartoons shown on French TV in the late 1960s. Next in popularity is anything related to Charles de Gaulle. There is a small charge to view the entire two minutes of the Shadoks, since this is copyrighted material, but this is true for only about 20 percent of the 100,000 programs currently online.

The work goes on as INA continues to digitize its archives and put them online. The screen is tiny and the clips sometimes frustratingly short, but like all TV, it’s hard to stop watching.

Heidi Ellison

© 2006 Paris Update

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