The EYE opens – Amsterdam’s new landmark film institute

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Amsterdam has a new landmark. It is the EYE Film Institute, formerly the Film Museum, which has moved to the up-and-coming northern bank of the River IJ. The futuristic building, designed by Viennese architects Delugan Meissl, is being opened by Queen Beatrix on 4 April and is destined to be an eye-catcher for generations to come.

The low geometric form echoes the cinematic technique of multiple perspective storytelling. The building is covered by a mosaic of white aluminium tiles, wrapped tightly around a low-rise steel structure. The combination of sloping walls and glass makes it possible to see right through the building from various angles. “The initial design was inspired by light, space and movement. Film as an illusion,” explains architect Elke Delugan Meissl.

Regular filmgoers might feel a tinge of sadness now that the grand old film museum in Amsterdam’s favourite park has closed its doors for the last time. The Vondel Park pavilion was a popular and central location. The adjoining restaurant Vertigo was often busy, its inviting outdoor terrace often overflowing. However, the new building has preserved the style of the former museum in one of its cinemas - the Parisian - where LED lighting conjures up art deco décor at the flick of a switch.

(Read more below slideshow. Click here to watch a video about the new museum.)


Rapid EYE movement
It’s not the first time the film institute has undergone a metamorphosis; the collection began in 1946 and soon grew into an official archive. In 1952, the Netherlands Historic Film Archive changed its name to the Film Museum. In the 1970s, a concerted effort was made to gather the collection - scattered around the backrooms and attics of various film houses - into one place. But the Vondel Park building was too small from the outset and parts of the collection had to be stored in bunkers.

In the 1990s, it looked like Amsterdam might lose its silver screen museum to a new visual arts institute in Rotterdam. Instead, the museum opted to move to a prime location on the former site of the Royal Dutch Shell headquarters.

Critics complain that the collection of 37,000 films, 60,000 posters and 700,000 photos still doesn’t fit its new – and much larger – home, but EYE CEO Sandra den Hamer says that was never the intention. A storage depot is being built elsewhere in North Amsterdam. The new venue will display the EYE’s artefacts in what it bills as “Amsterdam’s largest connected exhibition space” – 1,200 square metres.

Room with a View
The EYE looks across the river towards the city centre and its restaurant spills out onto a south-facing waterfront terrace. ”The film has finally got the museum it deserves,“ says Ms den Hamer. But when the EYE opens, it hopes to shake off its stuffy “museum” image. The spectacular new film institute has quadrupled its capacity with four state-of-the-art cinemas. It even has a “Room with a View” for executive meetings or artsy weddings.

The institute will continue to pioneer film restoration and research techniques. And its close proximity to many Dutch production houses and film distributors will help it perform its new task: promoting Dutch films internationally. “Past, present and future of the cinema come together in EYE, the new film museum,” writes publicity manager Ingeborg Tuinman.

The film institute’s digital collection will be housed in the basement. There are individual viewing “pods” with Cinemascope screens and sofas, where film buffs can do a quiz or watch archival footage. In the Panorama room, a Beeldenstorm – ‘image storm’ – is projected onto the wall. Panels enable visitors to look up archive films by various themes at the blink of… well, what else, an eye.

“Beating heart of film”
It’s a huge transformation from the Art Deco pavilion into this state-of-the-art palace, at a time when many cultural organisations in the Netherlands are facing huge cuts. “In answer to the question, ‘is a project like this possible in times of crisis?’ The answer is: yes!” exclaims Ms den Hamer. Nevertheless, the EYE is looking for benefactors – film lovers, for example, can buy their own chair in one of the cinemas.

The film institute hopes the new location will broaden its attraction to tourists, local residents, schools, media students, film professionals and film buffs alike. It hopes to become the “beating heart of film in the Netherlands”. But it’s already received criticism from Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas for this “megalomaniac project”. He wants to know “who wants to cross the river to watch a film in North Amsterdam anyway?”

But Ms Hamer has a ready response: “The Eye is closer to Schiphol than the Vondel Park. And it is already the most seen museum in the Netherlands as passengers can see it from the trains.”

To be a success, early morning viewings of silent movies watched by a few hardcore media students will have to become a thing of the past. The question is, will the EYE manage to cash in on its prime position, vamp up its programme and draw the masses across the river.

Read more:
Found footage - Cinema Exposed exhibition

Opening festival 5 April – 11 April

Watch a time-lapse video of the EYE Film Instute's construction: