The Arc experience

Arc is a 250-seat state-of-the-art screening venue built with careful attention to heritage values and situated within the art deco Northern Exhibition Gallery of the NFSA’s Acton headquarters. Arc features customised archival-quality projection equipment, brilliant audio and a special pre-screening light and sound show that makes the Arc experience unique.

Architecture and design

The NFSA’s headquarters were built as the Institute of Anatomy in 1930, with two double-storey exhibition halls for the presentation of anatomical specimens and ethnographic collections and a lecture hall seating 120 people. The NFSA moved into the building in 1984, and was immediately faced with the issue of having no screening facility.

The spark

The NFSA explored proposals for building a new free-standing cinema elsewhere on the site, but converting one of the original exhibition halls into a cinema remained an ongoing temptation. In 2005, the NFSA hosted Chapin Cutler, of Boston Light and Sound, who encouraged the NFSA to turn temptation into reality. Formal approvals were set in place and the NFSA established a construction team led by co-project managers Trevor Anderson and Peter Callow, along with Solve Design, Graham O’Neil and Associates, Neil Le Quesne and Associates, Jands and Atlab.

The vision

The final piece in the creative puzzle came from Santa Fé-based theatre designer and artist Garry Transue. Garry visited the NFSA in April 2006 with an invitation to create an inspired, cutting-edge interior design including lighting and soundscapes. Garry spent a week immersed with NFSA staff, and gained some exposure to the Australian landscape and the way Australians live. He was especially taken with the Australian habit of shortening names wherever possible, often with a laconic and humorous twist.

Garry presented his vision of a new cinema called 'Arc’ to NFSA Director Paolo Cherchi Usai. He wrote, in part:

Arc, short for archive, describing a trajectory – a path of conductivity from past to future, from old to new, known to unknown, from where the NFSA has been to where it is headed. An arc occurs between two poles and creates a bridge of current. The name also refers to projectors of old which used carbon arc light sources. Arc is short and succinct, suggesting a charged environment, full of energy and the spark of creativity.

Arc would be a space dedicated to the sharing and inspiration of the art, history and appreciation of cinema.

Technical specifications

  • Arc cinema is fitted with cutting-edge 35/16mm changeover projection, using a pair of custom-designed Kinoton projectors chosen for their adaptability as well as for their precision technology. Arc’s Kinotons are amongst a handful of projection systems in Australia capable of screening all manner of historic and contemporary images in a wide range of aspect ratios, with the ability to run silent films at correct speeds.
  • The innovative sound system can present many different audio formats, from the earliest days of sound on film to state-of-the-art digital audio. The system also supports sound reinforcement for live accompaniment to silent film events.
  • A state-of-the-art archival film projection system means the NFSA can screen rare prints not only from its own collection but from other libraries and archives around the world, opening up access to films rarely seen in Australia.
  • Arc is also fully equipped with a variety of video and digital formats, enabling the NFSA to screen video up to high-definition and back to the earliest surviving video works. Arc also has performance lighting and live audio systems for special guest-speaker and live-music events.


Harkness Hall P140
10.12m x 4.4m cinema screen
Moveable masking (side only)
Throw 21.74m

Film projection

2 x Kinoton FP38EC 35/16 mm projectors 35 mm aspect ratios available:
1:1.33 (Full Frame Silent)
1:1.375 (Academy/Standard)
1:1.66 (Wide Screen)
1:1.75 (Wide Screen)
1:1.85 (Wide Screen)
1:2.35 (Anamorphic)
16 mm aspect ratios available:
1:1.375 (Academy/Standard)
1:1.66-1:1.85 (Zoom lens)
1:2.66 (Anamorphic)
35 mm audio formats available: mono tungsten white light
red LED stereo (Dolby A, Dolby SR)
Dolby SRD (Dolby Digital)
35 mm magnetic
16 mm audio formats available:
Panasonic PT-DW-10,000EK native high definition 16× 9 video projector Sources available:
Sony J3 Digi/SP Beta
DVD (2)
HDD (Hard disc drive) Switched through
Kramer VP727

Audio System

Dolby CP650D Digital cinema audio processor
Soundcraft G4 32-channel audio mixing desk Mix positions in bio box and in auditorium centre
24 mic lines
8 tie lines
BSS London Blu Digital signal processing unit