A Conversation with Caroline Frick

Caroline Frick currently juggles responsibilities for no fewer than three positions, which include the Founder and Executive Director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Austin, and President of the Board for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).

After studying history and film at the University of East Anglia, Frick worked for the National Archives, Library of Congress, and Warner Bros., and ran the Film Preservation Festival for the AMC cable television network.  She then moved to Austin, Texas where she earned her PhD in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at The University of Texas at Austin in 2005.   While working on her PhD, Frick founded the Texas Archive of the Moving Image in 2002: “My educational and professional experiences contributed very much to starting a regional film archive; most importantly, the master’s program I attended was housed in a regional archive,” she says. Also influential in her decision to found TAMI was her work running the National Film Registry Tour for the Library of Congress, in which major Hollywood features were screened alongside more obscure footage produced within the state. “Many times, there were longer lines for local film events than Hollywood’s most famous titles” she says, before adding, “The US has an incredibly rich moving image history that is still undiscovered and unwritten.  Industrial filmmaking, educational productions and advertising materials provide equally valuable insight to our historical past…by the time I got to Texas, I was primed and interested in this type of material. Texas is unique because it has been so highly profiled – often erroneously – in Hollywood films.” Frick’s work with TAMI blends both her personal and research interests in Hollywood history and local materials.  For her academic research, she finds it fascinating “how different national or regional contexts have defined preservation –related terms and how different contexts have similarly or differently taken approaches to preserving materials.”

Snake King of Brownsville, c. 1914
Snake King of Brownsville, c. 1914

“What TAMI aspires to be is a hub to bring together people and organizations interested in ensuring long-term preservation and access to moving image,” she says, noting that the expense of preservation often ensures it remains a low priority. TAMI’s access-driven mission aims to raise awareness of the value of films in historical collections: “People need to see this material to understand the value of it,” Frick notes. “One of our current projects is to raise money to revamp the look of our curated collections, especially with an eye towards greater use by K-12 educaters and so-called ‘lifelong learners.’ There’s nothing more fulfilling than introducing our content to people who’ve never seen it or thought about it before – the realization in their eyes and the excitement.”

Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925
Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925

Outreach initiatives at TAMI include the Texas Film Round-Up, a free digitization service for any individual or organization with state-related audiovisual materials. Once digitized, the films are added to TAMI’s online library, and the supplying organization receives a copy as well as the original artifacts.  A small museum exhibit denoting both the history of film and broadcasting in the region as well as preservation techniques travels with the program.  The Texas Film Round-Up often screens collection material which helps dispel some of the erroneous notions people have of the state’s media history.  “For example, a lot of people think of Texas film and think of Hollywood cowboys – our collection reveals so much more!” Frick notes.

Bloom (2012), produced as part of TAMI’S Mess with Texas program

Another initiative, Mess with Texas, is a collaborative effort between TAMI and Texas art museums, in which video artists are given audiovisual materials and encouraged to “mess with them.”  The project’s name is a clever nod to the Don’t Mess with Texas environmental campaign.

Having served as President of the AMIA board since 2011, Frick sees her current roles within both TAMI and AMIA intersecting with one another: “Sometimes when you’re working on something that’s more narrowly focused with a refined, geographically-focused mission, it really helps to keep abreast of what’s happening on national and international levels…[AMIA gives us] a unique, level playing field for us to talk with one another.”  As AMIA board members represent various components of the organization’s membership, “having a sense of where many of our different voices come from is quite helpful.”

Much like her work with TAMI, Frick wants to see AMIA work further to raise public awareness of the value of AV preservation.  “The fantastic work of our members helps communicate to the public why [film archivists] are here, what we’re doing, and why it matters.” Last year’s beta test of the Festival of the Archives, in partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival, helped raise awareness of the preservation efforts undertaken by media archives around the country; it’s something Frick hopes to see continue in the future. “Just because you turn on the television and you see a black and white movie doesn’t mean it’s going to be there forever…ultimately, we try to keep material alive for as long as possible.”

Frick argues that, as the preservation field continues to grow and evolve, with formats becoming increasingly obsolete, “there’s going to be more awareness over time for the need of this kind of work, coming from a variety of different sectors.”  Frick hopes that AMIA will continue to bring together divergent voices from a number of professional settings, but remarks that engaging with diverse groups can sometimes be a challenge: “What I fear is the increased tension between those who are very much dedicated to conservation of film material and those who are advocating for constant migration of data. (i.e., what do we prioritize, content vs. carrier?) My biggest hope is to see that all of us are talking about the same thing.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Frick argues that “there’s no better time to get involved with the media preservation community. There are so many exciting opportunities developing in so many different sectors if one is open to the ways audiovisual preservation can be defined.”

~Kaitlin Conner

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