The online archives contain material shot in Israel before and after the establishment of the State in 1948, motion picture records of many Jewish communities in the Diaspora and two special collections relating to the Holocaust.The Hebrew University’s Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive has undergone a dramatic expansion of its online archives service, which will allow film buffs, researchers and the general public to access and view hundreds historical Jewish and Israeli films on their computers.

The service was introduced four months ago – when those at the archive had no idea as to the level of interest in their material among the general public. To their surprise and delight, over the course of the four months, over 30,000 viewers requested to view the selected films that were accessible online.

Now, as part of the first stage of the archive’s Virtual Cinema Project, the next significant step is being taken to make the archive’s contents accessible to the world – 112 films are being made available online. Over the next four years, approximately 100 additional films will be added annually until over 500 films will be viewable on the Internet.

All told, the Spielberg Archive holds over 3,000 titles on film and video, constituting the largest collection of Jewish documentary film footage in the world. The vaults contain material shot in Israel before and after the establishment of the State in 1948, motion picture records of many Jewish communities in the Diaspora and two special collections relating to the Holocaust. Clips from the Spielberg Archive have appeared in a variety of movies, documentaries and television shows and also are used by researchers interested in the Holocaust, Israeli history, Jewish life in pre-war Europe and many other topics.

“I’ve been in charge of the film archives here in the basement of Hebrew University for 22 years – and I never imagined in my wildest dreams that, thanks to the Internet, this many people would see the films stored here,” archives director Marilyn Koolik said, noting that over 1100 hours of film has been viewed online so far.

The Archive was founded in 1967 by historians at Hebrew University. In 1987 a generous donation was received from Spielberg and the Archive was named after the American filmmaker who continues to be a supportive, interested and generous donor.

“As a Jew and a filmmaker the Spielberg Jewish Film Archive has always meant a great deal to me personally. To be able to support its vital work is a tremendous honor.” Spielberg said upon the 10th anniversary of the archives being named for him.

Funds to make the online project possible were raised by the American Friends of the Hebrew University (AFHU) in honor of Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. The online titles have been divided into subject groups broadly representative of the archive?s holdings: Jewish communities, the Holocaust, pre-state Israel, Israel since statehood, and the Hebrew University. These titles include scenes, for example, from pre-Holocaust European Jewish communities, early pioneering efforts in the land of Israel, and proceedings from the Adolf Eichmann trial.

“These are rare and unique films that don’t exist anywhere else,” said Koolik. “The idea behind this project is to get the material out to the world.”

She explained that the primary goal of the archives is to contribute to Jewish education.
“The way children are learning around the world today is through visual media and the internet. By making this material available, Jewish educators can include it in their curriculum. For example, if a Jewish day school teacher in the US is teaching about the establishment of the state of Israel, she can tell her students to go into the archives and view the scene of David Ben-Gurion declaring the creation of the state in 1948,” Koolik said.

She explained that another goal of the online archives is to be a resource for filmmakers all over the world, adding that the archives receives a steady stream of queries from documentary makers, TV stations and individuals looking for historical footage of Jewish life.

“In the past, they would have to check our catalog and receive a written description. Then they would get a video copy sent to them so they could view the footage, and only then would they be able to order the film. This cuts out all that time,” she said.

“The next batch will go up in August. Thanks to technological advances and the use of broadband, the size of the film on the screen will be larger and the resolution better. I can’t begin to think how it will look in 5 years,” said Koolik.

The films can be viewed via a video-streaming technology by using Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player 6.5+. It does not allow the films to be copied. (Producers, researchers and other interested parties must contact the Spielberg Archive to obtain copies of selections from the archive.)