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by Joerg Burger
In Archive of the Future, an almost contemplative narrative style, images with a magnetic appeal and a direction devoid of excessive virtuosity give us a virtual tour of one of Vienna’s most famous museums, giving us above all the precious opportunity to ‘peek behind the scenes’. At the Diagonale’23.
Past, present, future
Many people will know that in Vienna, on the Ringstraße, there are two of the most important museums in the world. Two imposing and majestic buildings between which, in the middle of a small park, stands the statue of Maria Theresa of Austria. These are the Kunsthinstorisches Museum (museum of art history) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (museum of natural history), which have always been essential stops to get to know the beautiful Austrian capital better. Could cinema, then, remain indifferent to such precious realities? Absolutely not. And indeed, in 2014, director Johannes Holzhausen made the documentary The Great Museum, which focused precisely on the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the various processes of valorisation and conservation of the art works there. For the occasion, Joerg Burger took part in the project as director of photography. It was he, therefore, who, almost ten years later, wanted to ‘complete’ the work in some way by dedicating himself to the Naturhistorisches Museum. Thus, the documentary Archive of the Future, presented as part of the programme of the Diagonale’23, originated.
Archive of the Future, therefore, shows us close up the work done every day inside the aforementioned museum. Display cases full of insects and colourful butterflies look almost like an abstract composition. Many small birds wait to be catalogued. And while a lion has to be prepared before being exhibited, it seems rather difficult to find a suitable place for a giraffe or a dinosaur skeleton. In the Naturhistorisches Museum, activities start very early in the morning and continue into the evening. Numerous scientists and scholars – as well as an elderly couple working as volunteers – do their utmost to ensure that important testimonies of the past will remain in the future.
Joerg Burger’s camera silently shows us all these processes. And as we see how some of the animals are stuffed and each of the staff tell us before the camera what their task consists of, we realise how complex each individual process is in order to make the visitors’ experience in the museum as comprehensive as possible. In Archive of the Future, however, there is no shortage of far more complex reflections, particularly concerning delicate moral issues and how certain practices – safaris above all – are extremely dangerous for animals. And so, immediately, we think back to the documentary Safari, directed by Ulrich Seidl in 2014, and how the director mercilessly lashed out at those who engage in certain practices.
In Archive of the Future, Joerg Burger is less biting than his colleague, yet he provides us with a complete picture of the situation, leaving the viewer complete freedom to draw his own conclusions. An almost contemplative narrative style, images with a magnetic charm and a direction devoid of excessive virtuosity do the rest and give us a virtual tour of one of Vienna’s most famous museums, giving us above all the precious opportunity to ‘peek behind the scenes’.
Original title: Archiv der Zukunft
Directed by: Joerg Burger
Country/year: Austria / 2023
Running time: 92’
Screenplay: Joerg Burger
Cinematography: Joerg Burger
Produced by: Navigator Film