Approximately a thousand film rolls were burnt in a fire at the Cinemateca Brasileira film library in the wee hours today (Feb. 3) in São Paulo. The number which stands for slightly below 0.4 percent of the archive, the institution says. Most of the material burnt is preserved in other media or formats.
The films destroyed are in the public domain, and a survey is to be conducted in order to ascertain how much material was permanently lost. The result will be announced to the film library in a few days.
The fire affected one of the four nitrate film warehouses. Using nitrocellulose as a film base was common prior to the 50's. Firefighters were called at 5:30 a.m. and the operation lasted 30 minutes.
The Cinemateca had infrastructure specially created to store nitrate films. To avoid short-circuit risks, no electric grid is present in the facilities, and walls do not reach all the way up to the ceiling, preventing fire from spreading. According to the institution, the construction proved efficient, as the fire did not reach any other chamber.
Nonetheless, due to its composition, nitrocellulose may face spontaneous combustion depending on the temperature in the environment. Possible causes of the fire are still under investigation by the fire department.
The archive of audiovisual originals, films stored under court rulings, and all of the collections in the institution, including some 250 thousand film rolls, have not been affected, and the chambers where they are stored are intact. The areas providing public access to the library and all of its non-film archive, made up of about 1 million documents and objects, are distant from the nitrate films and are not under risk.
The foyer as well as the cinema rooms in operation are duly equipped and the Cinemateca has two firefighters in their staff. Services will be normalized sometime this week, representatives from the Cinemateca's press office announced, according to the availability of technical teams, which are currently working on the collections affected by the fire.
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira