The City of Brussels Archives – Location, location, location!
The building that has housed the City of Brussels Archives since 1979 is a typical example of early 20th century commercial architecture. As a result, it has often been used as a location by film cameras. The beauty of the site as a whole – the volume of the spaces, the light well and the decorative woodwork – make it an ideal film set for the 1930s, even if the building has been given a number of often highly improbable alternative identities.
In addition, many foreign production companies – primarily French – choose to shoot their films or series in Belgium as a consequence of more favourable financial conditions. This makes the Archives a perfect choice.
The arrival of the film crew is always an event. While some shoots have been discreet, others have involved an array of film-related professions – not to mention the creation of sets, unrolling of hundreds of metres of electric and lighting cable, the creation of dressing rooms for the actors, make up rooms, the essential canteen to provide comfort to actors and film crew alike during the long periods of waiting, the technical vehicles taking up the central courtyard of the Archives complex and sometimes the whole of Rue des Tanneurs, and the inevitable “Silence on set” that paralyses both staff and readers during a few tens of seconds repeated tirelessly throughout the day.
A non-exhaustive list of films has been drawn up from an examination of the correspondence between the production companies and the Archives. The correspondence logs have also been an invaluable source of information. From the 1990s onwards, applications for filming permits have been required, and these have enabled a much more detailed list to be established
The typology of film shoots:
The unique nature of the building enables a range of different genres of film to be shot here. For fiction, the building and its collections are not the central theme. Instead, they appear in a sporadic and sometimes fleeting manner.
For example, a scene from the mini-series Les Steenfort, maitres de l’orge, in which the shelving on the first floor of the central building represented a Gestapo office during the Second World War. The same space represented the office of the heroine’s doctoral thesis supervisor in the film Un heureux événement. On other occasions, the Archives have simply served as a set, as was the case on the programmes Face cachée and Face aux juges broadcast on the TV channel RTL. Sometimes the producers are not interested in the site for the archives, but instead as a space for filming, completely altering the essence of the location. This was the case in an episode in season 2 of the series Zone Blanche, in which the Head Archivist’s office was transformed into a totally unrecognisable cabinet of curiosities.
The links mentioned lead to the trailer or an article about the film in each question. They do not necessarily show the scenes filmed in the City of Brussels Archives.
The future of filming at the Archives
Scenarios in which the building is no longer recognisable, or the filming of scenes detrimental to the institution as a result of divorcing it from its vocation, may have an influence on the acceptance of some applications.
The Archives are a living location in which 25 people work and which welcomes the public on a daily basis. The contractual undertakings agreed by producers are not always respected and can disrupt the everyday life of the service, both from point of view of its assignment as a whole and its opening hours and the quality of the welcome offered to the public.
However, this magnificent and highly prized location will undoubtedly continue to inspire artists and undergo stimulating experiences as a result. A film shoot – no matter how brief – is always a point of interest in the life of the Archives service, even though it requires adaptation and indulgence from both staff and readers – and also from the film crew.