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As a prologue to a discussion about the role of film archives in the twenty-first Century, David Francis, British film archivist and curator, claims : « I believe that both library and archive are the wrong words, and museum is the right word (…) Because the museum itself today is a total experience : it accepts the need to preserve the artefacts, to maintain heritage, but also accepts the need to present. » Over the last decades, the new technological possibilities, in particular the generalized digitalization of archival collections, allowed a wider representation of the medium film in art museums. From then on, films came closer to their original format by being juxtaposed to artworks in the institutional space with small screens suspended or hung on the wall. Archival film plays several roles in the museum context: sometimes mediation, at other times document or even artwork, making the construction of its meaning worthy of examination. If the phenomenon of “exhibited” cinema is widely accepted, the object of study will be here slightly different as it involves a distinct kind of film that we will call archival films for the reason that they are primarily a document.
This paper focus on the emergence of the document exhibit in art museums and analyse the implications of this curatorial shift on the status of archival films. What are the consequences of this curatorial strategie on the knowledge produced by the museum and the perception of the films by users and spectators ? What does the appropriation by the museum of the documents’ informational, aesthetics and social content imply ? In what extent does this shift in curatorial practices invite us to reconsider Art History as a History of forms.