Interview an Archivist: Kasandra “Kaz” O’Connell

By Sarah Prause

I recently had the fortune of interviewing film preservationist Kasandra “Kaz” O’Connell. Kaz is the head of the Irish Film Institute’s (IFI) Irish Film Archive, a role she has held for over 20 years. Being involved in film preservation was not a dream she’d fostered from her youth, but a love she found along the way. In college, Kaz studied fashion with a goal of working in design. After graduation she realized she wouldn’t enjoy a career in that field, so she decided to go back to school for a certificate in media studies. What started as a six-week internship for the costume department of the National Museum turned into a five-year position. It was during this time that she learned about curation and collection management, which prompted her to pursue a master’s degree in museum studies and archiving. She was aware of the IFI through a former colleague and focused on their work for a final project. When she saw an opening for their head of archive position, she never dreamed she would get it, but she applied anyway and has been in the role ever since. During our conversation, topics ranged from discussing the IFI’s Irish Film Archive, concerns for the future of film preservation, accessibility of archives, and her thoughts on the next generation of film preservationists. 

To adequately understand the challenges facing Kaz as the head of the IFI’s Irish Film Archive, it is critical to know the unique history of the organization. The IFI traces its beginnings to the 1943 founding of Ireland’s National Film Institute (NFI). This organization was created with a strong Catholic mission to promote the “education and moral guardianship” of Ireland. The reasoning for Catholic Church involvement in film stemmed from a 1936 statement by Pope Pius XI, known as Vigilanti Cura, which detailed church fears of moral degradation within society by popular moving images and arguing for church intervention as a counter. Religious involvement continued in preservation, education, and production decisions until 1982 when a secular board decided to separate the organization from Catholic influences and renamed the NFI to the IFI. An organized archival unit, that today consists of about 30,000 cans of film dating as far back as 1897, did not start to appear until the transition to the IFI. Recent increases in digitization and digital material intake has pivoted Kaz and the IFI to quickly adapt to technological challenges. Significant work in open source script development and implementation of digital preservation strategies has been world class, netting IFI’s Loopline Project the 2018 award for Safeguarding Digital Legacy from the Digital Preservation Coalition and the 2019 Joint Technical Symposium Award from the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations. The scripts are all available through GitHub for interested archivists. Even through the IFI’s major changes, it still emphasizes a mission of, “education through and about film…”.1

In her role as head of archive Kaz is on the frontline of preserving Ireland’s film heritage. The country lacks a government funded central film archive, unlike other Western countries, and Kaz’s mission is for the archive to fill that role. Difficulty is increased due to the IFI not being funded primarily through the state;2 thus Kaz spends significant time securing the financial resources to care for and expand the collection. Kaz sees her role as twofold. First, to ensure the safety and proper preservation of the collection by securing funding and planning projects and programs for the archive’s stakeholders. Second, to advocate for film preservation on a national and international scale. Within the wider field of archives, Kaz is a member of the prominent film preservation organizations: the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). Both organizations support moving image archivists with training opportunities, highlight issues facing the industry, and promote moving image archives throughout the world and Kaz has regularly helped to deliver training programs for FIAF and is on the editorial board of AMIA’s journal The Moving Image. Kaz also recently decided to pursue a PhD at Dublin City University, with a focus on analyzing the history of film preservation in Ireland. As with everything she does, her goal is to bring an Irish perspective to the conversation and highlight her country’s cultural heritage.

Here is a shot of Kaz in the middle of teaching at the 2018 Film Preservation & Restoration Workshop in India.

Part of any head archivist’s job is to bring new items to the collection. Kaz and the IFI noticed that large gaps of time were not represented in their archives. To remedy this, they held a national callout, hoping to bring in collections in the hands of citizens. Most items they received were amateur and home films, an area of emphasis in their archival collections, as Kaz explained, “As there was so little professional production in Ireland, these collections give us an amazing insight into the lives of Irish people and the things that they felt were important enough to record.”

When I asked Kaz what challenges she saw facing the future of archiving, she provided a distinct perspective. One of her concerns is the potential environmental impact of contemporary film preservation. In her words, “We are at a bit of a crossroads in terms of aligning the environmental impact of the large amounts of digital content we take in or create and the sustainability and longevity of our profession.” In working to digitize and preserve in the highest possible quality, Kaz explained, archives are negatively impacting the environment and the eco-sustainability of archival processes is something she is concerned about. As a solution she referenced an unorthodox approach that is currently being implemented within some archival circles: preserving born digital content on film for long term preservation. 

When stored properly, film can survive for hundreds of years. While archives are embracing digital materials, they contain serious drawbacks for preservation. Digital materials are fragile, with file types becoming obsolete at rapid speeds. Digitization is a great tool for preservation and making films accessible, but at the cost of a burdensome workload and financial strain. Though it seems straightforward, the process often requires third-party vendors and a highly trained staff. Beyond the expense of digitizing films, the cost and energy usage of the infrastructure required to store the files is massive and unobtainable for smaller institutions. By preserving born-digital materials in physical formats, archivists can ensure their preservation in perpetuity and protect them from equipment obsolescence and failure.

Accessibility is an important topic in archives because it determines how people can find and use the items that archivists are preserving. Every archive has their own approach to making their collections accessible. Kaz and the IFI Irish Film Archive developed the IFI Archive Player to provide free access to their digitized materials to anyone in the world. They also supply closed captioning for digitized objects and select screenings, increasing accessibility for the hearing impaired. Kaz noted that screenings are a great way to get people interested in archives. In 2021, the IFIArchive and their sister department, Irish Film Programming, hosted “561 screenings of 220 Irish films, to audiences of 28,993, at 55 events in 55 cities across 33 countries.”

Another concept currently being debated by audiovisual archives is ‘thoughtful loss.’ Archives are recognizing that they don’t have the resources to keep as much material as they instinctively wish to and are reverting to a more rigorous appraisal of collections (and are increasingly selective about what they decide to preserve). This approach was once the foundation of archival science but in the digital era it has become less popular, as the storage of large quantities of data becomes realistic. A recognition of the long-term impact of ‘keeping everything’ has led to archivists revisiting this tenet of the profession.

Finally, I asked Kaz if she had any fears about getting younger generations involved in film preservation while the world around us relies more on technology. In her eyes, the problem is not that people are uninterested in the field, but that there are few programs for learning the skills and limited employment opportunities. Getting people interested in film preservation can only go so far if the training is not available. In America, there are a handful of renowned film preservation programs, but that is not the case in Europe. Kaz noted that there is one course in the Netherlands that teaches the subject, but few Irish people attend. She has worked with several universities in Ireland and hopes that that work can draw newcomers to the field.

It was a pleasure having this conversation with Kaz, and I wish her and the IFI continued success. For more information on her projects and programming, or to view IFI materials, please visit the IFI website. To keep up with the latest from Kaz, follow her on Twitter.

1. Kasandra O’Connell, “Moving History – An Introduction to the IFI Irish Film Archive,” 2018, Irish Family History Centre, streaming, 25:12, https://soundcloud.com/eneclann/kasandra-oconnell.

 2. Ibid.

An Interview with Kieron Webb, Head of Conservation, British Film Institute

By Sara Lawrence

This past spring, I had the opportunity to chat with Kieron Webb, the Head of Conservation, at the British Film Institute’s (BFI) National Archive. While at the BFI, he has worked on restoring some of the early works of Charlie Chapin, David Lean, and Alfred Hitchcock. Kieron is also a member of the Technical Commission of FIAF (the International Federation of Film Archives). Over two days and an hour and a half on Zoom, he shared his thoughts with me about the field of film and conservation. This article outlines a brief insight into that conversation, including Kieron’s thoughts on the BFI and the field of film preservation and conservation today.

Background

Kieron Webb attributes the beginnings of his moving image preservation career to his time at the University of Kent in Canterbury, where he earned a degree in film studies. The 35mm film prints that he was exposed to there, all exhibited different qualities and conditions, and all generated a sense of wonder about the prints themselves and their survival for the years ahead. After graduation, Kieron volunteered at a commercial film archive called Huntley Film Archives. The founder, John Huntley, had worked for the BFI for just over twenty years until the mid-seventies. During Kieron’s time at Huntley’s a one-day course was offered on film preservation, and from that experience Kieron was “hooked.” Soon after, in 2000, the BFI acquired funds from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and expanded their staff by almost double. At this time Kieron was able to, “get his foot in the door,” with the BFI, starting what would be a long and successful career with the institution.

The BFI

The BFI, created in 1933, is one of the largest archives for film and television on Earth. It serves to preserve and educate the public on moving image culture. As an institution, its structure and relationship to the government is unique, as Kieron explains, “The BFI in the UK is referred to as ‘the lead body for film.’ There’s a phrase, ‘it’s an arm’s length government body.’ We do report to a government department directly now, but we’re not within it. It’s sort of a funny beast, because we’re also a charity.” Funding and overall scope is distinctive for the institution as well. The BFI is supplied with funding from a government grant, as well as through the National Lottery and its own activities. A Royal Charter provides the mission statement for the BFI. The institution’s objective includes more than just moving image preservation, but also production and even encouraging moving image culture:

We provide educational outputs and access to wider ranges of film, a moving image culture I should say, more widely. Through various ways, either through our venue, physically in London, or by helping with distribution of certain titles, either new ones or archive titles re-released. Blu-ray release and so on. We have a player online channel, etc. The BFI covers a lot of ground in terms of activities, and of course, the National Archive.

The BFI’s Role in Today’s Film Culture

Our conversation drifted into the importance of the BFI on current filmmakers and film culture. Kieron told me that there has been a dramatic increase of filmmakers wanting to access BFI materials to re-use in new broadcasts or documentaries. Shifting trends in documentary filmmaking has led to an increased request for more archival footage:

So of course, there’s a greater demand for that [archival footage], I think than there was before, perhaps because you could pad a program in the past with somebody doing the talking head interview and that kind of thing. Whereas now if you’re going to take that approach, you’re going to need historical footage for the entire run-time.

Increased exposure to archival footage may have large effects for both filmmakers and the general population. Kieron sees the expanded presentation of heritage materials to the public and filmmakers as inspiring, especially if the roles of archives and archivists are connected:

Just as the French New Wave grew up watching classics in the Cinémathèque, who knows who we might be inspiring now, running a Truffaut season at the cinema as we are, releasing Blu-rays and so on. So I would really like to think the archive definitely has a place to play in that. But, I think it really varies how people perceive archives and how archivists perceive their place in that as well.

A critical part of increasing use of heritage materials is access. With this in mind, our discussion turned to access and archives. Technological advancements, says Kieron, is at the center of access progress:  

I think you have seen since DVD and Blu-ray a really wide range of films, that I thought in the past, like you say as a film lover, you thought if you didn’t catch this in cinema you might never see it again in your life. You know, [that] Japanese classic of some kind. And now you can start watching them as soon as you’ve remembered the title. That amazes me just as a film viewer, to go back from college days through graduating to think, ‘wow, I thought this film was a myth and here it is, I can just start streaming it now.’ And archives internationally have their place in that now, obviously.

At the BFI, streaming with BFI Player allows on-demand home access to rare moving images.

The Biggest Shift in Film Preservation

On the second day of the interview, Kieron mentioned how the previous day’s discussion reminded him of his early career venture to the Pordenone Silent Film Festival and of changes in film preservation noted from his experiences there. The Pordenone Silent Film Festival, started in 1982, is a yearly convergence of film enthusiasts in northern Italy to celebrate and showcase silent films. He talked about the National Lottery Heritage Fund of the BFI, and how early in his career at the BFI, the curator at the time offered a chance for two people to go to the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in Pordenone, Italy. He described how the Collegium at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival was created to attract a younger audience to the festival by offering lodging to the young participants, with the only requirement being that they had to write an essay of their time at the Festival. This program is ongoing for interested film enthusiasts. Kieron attributed a lot of his early connections in the field from this festival, due to the essay and requirements having the participants mix and interview with established professionals of the field. While interviewing at the festival, a topic of contention among archivists was on the digitization of the films instead of maintaining the original format: 

It was at a moment, the early 2000s, where everything was still being shown on film at the festival but some of the restorations had gone through a digital process and gone back out to film. That was a very hot topic of debate about the authenticity, the ethics, the practicalities, how expensive it was, the quality, et cetera, et cetera. And a lot of that still is [in debate]. So a fascinating time to have gone there. And I suppose it sounds almost cliche to say, but in the time that I’ve been working in the field, that’s obviously been the biggest change. Now, restoration itself is almost synonymous with digital tools technology. People still do restoration on film, or we do it partly on film, sometimes in a relationship with digital methods. Lots of things have changed in how cataloging is developed and how collections are managed in a sort of technical conservation sense. But from my perspective, that’s got to be the biggest shift.

Closing Thoughts

This article does not do justice to the breadth of the conversation I had with Kieron Webb. A consummate professional in the field who has many stories to tell throughout his career, Kieron gave great insight into what it means to be an expert in film preservation and conservation. I greatly appreciated the time I was given, realizing what a film archive can lend to the public and understanding how its professionals work day-to-day to give access to its resources. Overall, my appreciation for the knowledge and relationship gained through this interview will remain with me and be one of my founding memories into this professional path.

Amateur and Avant-Garde Film: An Interview with Antonella Bonfanti

By Taylor Dean

Film runs in Antonella Bonfanti’s blood. Her grandfather worked as a projectionist in Sicily from the end of World War II through the 1950s before immigrating to Canada where he ended his career as an operator, thereafter picking up a camera only to shoot home movies.

Decades later, Antonella found herself following in his footsteps inside a projection booth at the University of Toronto. Working an undergraduate work-study position while pursuing a degree in Cinema Studies, she gained valuable hands-on experience “behind the scenes,” projecting 16mm film and developing a deep appreciation for experimental and avant-garde film. After completing her Honors BA in 2003, Antonella went on to earn an MA from the Selznick Graduate Program in Film and Media Preservation at the University of Rochester and George Eastman House in 2008. She has worked as a technical manager and projectionist at independent cinemas and film festivals and has served on the board of directors of the Center for Home Movies, an organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of home movies. Antonella also serves on the board of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). In addition, from 2008 to 2016, Antonella was involved in AMIA’s Archival Screening Night to encourage access to moving image materials in archives throughout the United States and the world. She spent nearly a decade working at the Canyon Cinema Foundation (CCF), one of the only organized sources for distribution of prints of avant-garde and experimental film in America. Canyon Cinema prides itself on educating the public on independent, non-commercial avant-garde films. Antonella first served as its Collection Manager and then as the Executive Director. In 2020 she took on her current role as the Film Collection Supervisor at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) where she cares for a major collection of Bay Area avant-garde and experimental films, assisting with film exhibitions in the in-house cinema and preserving original materials held in the archives. 

Below is an excerpt from a recent interview with Antonella on her career and her hopes for the future of the film preservation field. Note that this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What draws you to the avant-garde and experimental film genres, specifically?

There were several aspects of it that I found compelling as a young person. And in many ways I still find it compelling today. One is the purely visceral nature of some of the structural works. As someone who was a novice 20 years ago, being introduced to the works of someone like Paul Sharits, who made these very intense flicker films, or Tony Conrad…I had no idea what it was, but watching these films elicited a physical response to these abstract visuals. There is no narrative. There is no swelling music. There are none of the traditional techniques used in narrative films to coax an emotion out of you. This is emotion through pure form. That was something that I had never experienced before. I didn’t understand it and that excited me because I didn’t know that film could do that or that the films that I was used to seeing, like in the mainstream, weren’t doing that through form. This aspect I found really intriguing. And on the opposite end, I also was really attracted to the observational form which would reveal, in some ways, at their core the act of seeing and meditating on a space. How once you take the time to stop and look at something over a period of time, it can be uncomfortable and weird, but it also reveals other kinds of aspects of the world. It asks you to change the way that you engage and look at the world, how you observe the world by forcing you to sit in a room for three hours and stare at something that is not moving or barely moving. Structural films are really exciting to me because they elicit a very visceral response. Observational works are also compelling to me because they kind of force you to engage with this frame, the world around you, in a different way.

You’ve had quite a career so far — Eastman House, CCF, and now BAMPFA. I’m curious about how you’ve found yourself working on these amazing projects and with such unique collections.

I’ve had a lot of luck! I went to the University of Toronto for my undergraduate degree. While there, I was able to get a job in the projection booth, working as an audio-visual technician for classes. That position opened my world to film handling… Being in a cinema studies program and then interacting with that same program from behind the scenes at a time when you’re actively showing 16mm in the classroom across all classes… This was the time of the rise of DVD, the fall of VHS and laser discs. Mini DV was considered an exhibition format for like a hot second, which was a nightmare! It was this moment when there was this confluence of all of these magnetic media and digital media and film all being shown in the space at the same time. I got exposed to all of these different types of media in a very practical way. But it was through that experience that I came to understand film as this tactile medium where every scratch, every piece of dust, every splice had a representation–it was visible on screen. And how it was a very fragile medium that needed protection.

Outside of your professional positions, you’re involved in several passion screening projects — AMIA and the Home Movie Day Events and you now serve on the Board of Directors at CCF. What drives your engagement and what are your hopes for the field at large?

I am hopeful for continuing this forward momentum with the sharing of knowledge and the acknowledgment that most of us have been able to get these jobs and work in this field because of a certain amount of privilege. I wasn’t even totally cognizant of this as a young person. My parents helped me through school, and while I worked hard, I still had a lot of support and was able to find ways to kind of muscle my way through into places. I had the ability to make time for volunteering for projects. I worked jobs that paid less because I was supported in other ways. BAMPFA is the first job that I’ve had that actually pays a reasonable amount of money for where I live. I have been able to engage in extracurricular projects because I live in a two income household and I have support from my relatives and community and so on. I’m hopeful that as communities like AMIA and others acknowledge – that if you don’t have the right connections or the right resources, doors don’t automatically open for you. And so we, in order to remain relevant and in order to continue to grow and enrich ourselves as a field and as professionals, we are obliged to open the doors to anyone who wants access and anyone who wants to learn. And be cognizant that we’ve become too homogeneous. Diverse voices and diverse perspectives only make us stronger and better. I’m hopeful that a lot of the progress that’s been made over recent years will continue. Particularly with organizations like AMIA–and this is a project I can take zero credit for, but I just want to point to their Pathways Fellowship as a great example of something super positive in our field. The Fellowship is meant to open doors for folks from groups historically underrepresented in the profession, and I’m hopeful to see other such entry points open up in the field.

I would like to thank Antonella for her time. To learn more about Bay Area experimental filmmaking in the 1960s and 1970s the BAMPFA will be holding a special premiere for several recently preserved films on September 21st called Serious Business Company and Bay Area Artists. Antonella and Jon Shibata, the Senior Film Archivist for BAMPFA, have also recently interviewed experimental filmmaker Dorothy Wiley, whose work is included in the premiere. I encourage readers interested in learning more about Dorothy Wiley or experimental filmmaking to check out that interview and the BAMPFA.

Interview an Archivist: A Conversation with Chris Lacinak

By Joshua Koepke

In archival and preservation circles, the word “digital” often induces worry about costs, skills, and plans necessary for long-term preservation. For Chris Lacinak, the founder and CEO of AVP, the shift to digital preservation presents opportunities for preservation and connections to important work outside of traditional repositories. Chris explained this to me in a recent phone interview which I had the pleasure of leading.

Chris Lacinak Headshot

Recognizing the widespread lack of institutional ability to find internal solutions to preservation problems, Chris Lacinak started AVP in 2006. Serving both GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) and the private sector, AVP provides consulting services and innovative solutions for maximizing the usability of born-digital and digitized content immediately and over the long-term. The idea is to realize an institution’s own potential for digital solutions at scale, “I started AVP originally back in 2006 with the goal of helping organizations build internal capacity and capability for doing their own digitization and preservation in-house.” This includes calculating staffing, training, equipment, costs, and project length for specific institutions. Since AVP started, it has worked with a large client base including Stanford University, Indiana University, and Paramount Pictures.

Chris offers reassurance to preservationists and asset managers hesitant to embrace digital content. Costs to digitize and preserve materials, observes Chris, have dropped in recent years. In some areas, the costs have decreased nearly ten times the amount of just a few decades ago. Another major detractor to digital content, obsolescence, has not been as severe as anticipated, says Chris, “I went through that transition. I shared those concerns [rapidity of digital obsolescence], and that was a big concern of the field. To a large extent, while some of those concerns have borne out to be true, that rapidity of obsolescence has not been as severe as we once thought it might be.” The increased duration between obsolescence risks has allowed for more planning, strategizing, and execution of strategies. Longer obsolescence times, partnered with great toolsets, education, and evolution of practices within the field has made digital preservation, “… as manageable and realistic as the analogue domain.” Ultimately, Chris says, successful preservation comes down to proper planning regardless of format.

One particular challenge that presents itself to AVP has been the differences in terminology and labels between institution types. The wide range of organization types, from traditional archives to corporate asset management departments, make unique vocabularies for their particular operation. For example, “Some people use digital asset management systems that have digital preservation requirements, but they never use the word ‘preservation’ or anything like that and vice versa.” These labels – digital asset management and digital preservation – can obscure the true needs and goals of an organization. Thus, Chris turns his attention to analyzing the unique requirements of a particular organization. 

Additionally, Chris sees high potential in collaboration efforts between different parts of the preservation community and with unconventional partners outside of the industry. Drawing on his experiences with a broad segment of the industry, Chris has noticed communication breakdowns between types of organizations and different segments of the industry. As a field, we are currently too quick to dismiss potential solutions that could be adapted for use in different markets due to differences in terminology and industry, says Chris, “We don’t engage in deep conversations typically, where there is variance in terminology and vocabulary that give us reason to say ‘they’re not like me’.” By doing so, we limit important progress in digital preservation. 

Emphasizing the connections to other industries continued when asked what advice he would give to young professionals just starting out in archiving or preservation. Chris encouraged people to think broadly about related fields and transferable skills to other industries, “…broaden your horizons, as an archivist, a moving image archivist, you have a skillset that has a lot of value to organizations. There are a lot of organizations that you could be delivering value to”. He went on to say that many organizations that do not have archival departments, traditional archival positions, or even the same terminology, can greatly benefit from the archival skillset. This is echoed in AVP, which has found great success when expanding services outside of institutions with traditional archives (e.g., academia, government entities). Overall Chris thinks the outlook is bright for digital preservation professionals, sensing a demand for curation, management, and all aspects of preservation with the current mass creation of data.

Finally, looking towards the future, Chris is excited about the unconventional opportunities to apply and adapt the digital preservation skillset to challenges throughout the world. He spotlights current AVP projects that are outside of traditional archival labels, including work helping to fight deforestation in Brazil and advancing platforms for black news organizations. Projects he remarks that, “… you would just not think of as being the sorts of projects that you’d be able to work on in a traditional media and archiving route.” Chris is eager to see how the field can think critically about their skillset and form connections to other areas. To get into contact with Chris Lacinak or AVP, please visit: https://www.weareavp.com/.

Born Digital Archiving: An Interview with Kieran O’Leary

By Sarah Bull

Kieran O’Leary, the Digital Preservation Manager at the National Library of Ireland, has had a successful career in digital preservation and digital asset management. Kieran’s professional work mixes passion for moving images with solving real digital preservation needs of institutions. Through his mix of formal education and self-guided learning, Kieran’s unique career path has earned him a position as a leader in the field of digital preservation. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Kieran, which included: discussing his career development, his current role, and his thoughts on the future of digital preservation in archives.

Kieran O'Leary at enjoying the atmosphere of a restaurant.

Starting as an intern at the Irish Film Institute (IFI), Kieran leveraged his passion for moving images and photography with his interest in digital media to make himself indispensable to the institution. “When I got in [to the IFI as an intern], I was told: ‘There is no job for you.’ Which is what they tell all the interns, but I got it into my head—I’m going to make sure they hire me.” Working towards this goal, Kieran began upskilling. He worked on his abilities in film and film and video digitization, being particularly interested in migrating tapes and examining digital cinema standards. This work occurred at the dawn of “the big move to digital,” which centered around digitizing physical media collections. As more and more moving pictures and broadcasts were born digital, an entirely new need arose in archives across the globe. Seeing this gap in the market, Kieran devoted himself to becoming an expert in digital curation methodologies for moving images.

After becoming indispensable, Kieran was hired officially with the IFI where he continued advancing his skills in digital preservation. In about 2014, facing growing concerns related to digital issues, the IFI made a strategic transition to fully embrace digital preservation. As Kieran explained it, this was, “A big turning point where we needed to come up with some file preservation formats.” This included the adoption of FFV1, a mathematically lossless format in media preservation. It was while first working with this format that Kieran began to experiment with scripting. This eventually led to coding which could serve many needs for a digital archive using a concept similar to microservices. Rather than taking a centralized approach to asset management, you instead take a fragmental approach wherein many command line tools perform the same work as a larger system. This allows for a highly customizable asset management system, and, in Kieran’s case, did away with the IFI’s need to pay for a large, proprietary asset management system. The script development Kieran did, especially with the IFI’s Loopline Project, was lauded within the digital preservation community, including winning the Safeguarding Digital Legacy Award from the Digital Preservation Coalition in 2018 and the Joint Technical Symposium Award in 2019 from the Co-ordination Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations. Though Kieran has moved on from the IFI to the National Library of Ireland, the scripts he wrote are still in use and working to benefit the preservation of Irish film heritage for future generations. The materials are available on GitHub for public and archival consumption.

The mission of the National Library of Ireland (NLI) is to “collect, preserve, promote, and make accessible the documentary and intellectual record of the life of Ireland and to contribute to the provision of access to the larger universe of recorded knowledge.” As such, the library holds an extensive collection of traditional library materials including books, periodicals, newspapers, and manuscripts. In recent years the NLI has shifted its priorities to incorporate digital objects, which encompasses the digitization of physical materials and the preservation and curation of born digital materials. Kieran O’Leary, as the Digital Preservation Manager at the NLI, is in charge of this. His first-of-a kind role with the NLI is constantly changing with the evolving field of digital curation.

Our discussion moved to current projects at the NLI. At present, Kieran describes his current work with the NLI as being in a building phase:

I’m working with librarians and archivists to come up with practical workflows for every phase of born digital collecting. Currently, this involves figuring out how best to move from born digital photo collections to much more general collections. The one in particular that we are currently working on has a born digital video, a bunch of doc/docx/pdf chapter drafts of a novel, a bunch of supporting material, like interviews and spreadsheets containing the outcomes of Twitter Q+As, and of course more photos.

Much of his work is in workflow and format development to efficiency and effectively ingest materials into the NLI and continue preservation goals for processed collections. To reach these goals, communication between NLI departments is critical. Kieran explains these points through another project example:

At the same time, I’m preparing for a few other upcoming acquisitions. One involves oral histories, another involves photo and video. Both of these will involve some discussion around formats and methods of transfer. In a few weeks time, all this will change for me, and I’ll move onto later parts of the workflow which will get a lot more technical as I’ll be digging into metadata and building up requirements for our software development team, who might need to improve our ingest pipelines and repository in general in order to be able to handle files that aren’t photos.

We also discussed the trends in moving image archives and their future as the field becomes farther and farther removed from the physical medium. Kieran affirmed the ultimate need to preserve the original physical items, saying: “When you look at film from the emulsion side in a light box and you see film raised up off the base, and you see the three-dimensionality of it which can never be replicated…ultimately preserving the original is the most important thing of all.” Additionally, he commented on the movement he sees in open source development, “The trend I’ve seen is this normalization now of open source tools [rather than going through archival vendors], and I think there is this awareness of the need to familiarize yourself with the command line… A greater awareness that using command line tools, using open source tools—there’s just a sustainable business case for doing that.”

The 21st century has changed many things about library and archival responsibilities and services. Institutions like the NLI need people like Kieran to fulfill their missions in the digital age of information. While digital preservation alone is not an effective defense against the trials of time, a skilled digital curator can continue preserving information for the years to come.

I sincerely thank Kieran for his time. To keep up with Kieran’s latest projects follow him on Twitter or GitHub.

A Gem of a Conversation: An Interview with Siobhan C. Hagan

By Benjamin Parnin

I recently had the opportunity to interview Siobhan C. Hagan, founder and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive (MARMIA) as well as the Project Manager of the Memory Lab Network at the Washington DC Public Library. MARMIA provides preservation, digitization, and access services to the Mid-Atlantic area as a nonprofit organization. The Memory Lab Network is a project at the Washington DC Public Library (DCPL) funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through a National Leadership Grant to build Memory Lab digital preservation programs in public libraries across the U.S. based on the DCPL Memory Lab model. During my interview with her I learned about her goals and accomplishments during her 12 years working in audiovisual preservation.

Siobhan always had an interest in film and home movies growing up, from watching classic movies on AMC and Turner Classic, to even basing one of her high school AP chemistry projects on the degradation of film. Deciding that she wanted to pursue a career in film, Siobhan attended Loyola Marymount University and graduated with a degree in film production and a minor in history. After graduating she worked at a small company in Burbank, California, doing product placement on TV shows. Wanting to explore a different career path and facing the reality of the Great Recession, Siobhan enrolled in New York University to complete the Tisch Moving Image Archiving and Preservation MA program. Here, learning about audio visual preservation, her interest in home movies and regional moving image materials deepened as she connected school studies with her own family’s home movie collection. She further developed a curiosity for her own regional audiovisual heritage through completing an internship at the University of Baltimore.

After graduating, Siobhan accepted audiovisual archivist positions near and far. Her first position was with the UCLA Library back in 2011. Here, she worked to create an audiovisual preservation program for the UCLA Library, which at the time, had its own collection separate from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. After a couple of years working at UCLA Siobhan’s concern and interests for her own regional audiovisual heritage brought her back to the east coast, “UCLA had [a] regional collection that was great, but I wasn’t scratching that itch of my region and where I’m from. I would return home to visit family and I was always looking around and asking around about the audiovisual [preservation situation] in Maryland and kept asking why no one is doing anything.”

In response to this feeling, Siobhan accepted a new position as the University of Baltimore’s first audiovisual archivist.  At the University of Baltimore, she curated and preserved two news collections, WJZ and WMAR, which she previously handled during her internship. Afterwards, Siobhan worked with the National Aquarium audiovisual collection before being hired as a manager of the 1930s Old Greenbelt Theater. Siobhan was tasked with gaining intellectual control over a collection of 16mm films from the local library which the theater wished to regularly screen to the public. Her many job responsibilities at the theater included being the house manager, grant writer, staff manager, and collection manager/preservationist. She then worked at the Archive of American Art at the Smithsonian doing film inspection and description before starting her current job at the Washington DC Public Library, where she provides audiovisual and digital preservation training for the public and other librarians.

During 2016 Siobhan started MARMIA to address the lack of attention towards the preservation of Mid-Atlantic audiovisual heritage. Through her career, Siobhan would receive emails and calls from schools, institutions, and historical societies asking for help with their audiovisual collections. Concerned parties lacked the expertise and funding for proper audiovisual preservation, and did not know what to do with the materials on hand. After the third similar request, she realized the need for a regional audiovisual archive. The lack of an existing organization to do this work, combined with her interests in regional audiovisual materials, were the two driving factors behind the creation of MARMIA. 

At first MARMIA consisted of completing digitization contract work for institutions in the area, but Siobhan envisioned a different path. She didn’t want MARMIA to become just another vendor or consultant. Siobhan secured a nonprofit status for MARMIA and looked for guidance from other regional audiovisual archives, including California Revealed, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, Northeast Historic Film, the Chicago Film Archives, and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound. Transitioning MARMIA to a physical archive became tangible in 2017 when the archive received the WJZ collection from the University of Baltimore. Siobhan recalled that it was a stressful period for MARIMA, as she had to find a place to store the massive collection in addition to fundraising and providing access. In 2021, MARMIA achieved the milestone of hiring its first part-time employee, Joana Stillwell. Siobhan’s future goal for MARMIA is to have multiple full-time staff that are well-paid and professionally fulfilled.

To better understand her passion for encouraging the archiving of the Mid-Atlantic region’s audiovisual materials, I asked Siobhan why she thought these materials were receiving lukewarm treatment. Siobhan stated that the cost, storage concerns, and expertise associated with digitizing audiovisual materials could be intimidating. This is especially true for small organizations which may lack the stated resources and thus not embark on digitization and preservation projects. Moreover, the payoff of finding a gem of an item can be arduous and thus discouraging, “It is amazing stuff, and every once in a while I would find a gem to show them [an organization], but the time involved in finding that gem that might bring the money in or get attention would take a lot of time because we have to digitize it and then you have to search it.” Even with digitization, content (and that possible gem) remains hidden without intensive time devoted to the work, says Siobhan, “To describe it takes time. The content is still mostly hidden unless you have a human watch it”.

Leveraging Siobhan’s experience in several moving image archiving positions throughout her accomplished career, I asked what she thought is one of the greatest challenges facing the audiovisual professional. Siobhan responded with a warning to aspiring professionals that institutions hire moving image archivists with big financial and professional expectations, “I feel I should warn new people in the field. Sometimes we [audiovisual archivists] are expected to have a magic wand and institutions will think that hiring an AV archivist will earn them all this money through licensing of footage or writing grants.” Another challenge she sees is the lack of adequate pay for positions and finds it out of alignment with the valuable skill set audiovisual archivists bring. Siobhan sees potential in new conversations about the value and pay of audiovisual archivists, particularly within the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), “I’m excited about people in AMIA talking about how we can’t be paying people so little.”

My final question for Siobhan was what she wants to accomplish in the next few years. Siobhan is looking forward to continuing her role at professional conferences and other spaces to increase outreach for moving image preservation and the value of audiovisual archivists. Siobhan envisions that her efforts will culminate in new interest in preservation work and our profession, hoping, “To get people to know that, first, this work needs to be done, and that it’s pretty time sensitive. I want to keep bugging people that AV preservation needs to happen.” 

The Blind Leading the Blind: One Man’s Journey in Film Preservation

By Mary Kate McConahay

I had the opportunity to speak with David Walsh recently about his thoughts on film preservation. This was a wonderful chat. David has had a 40 plus year career working in film preservation. He started his career at the Imperial War Museum, a British institution dedicated to preserving the experiences of nations and people in conflicts. The large mission of the archive is matched by its collections, which consist of over 25,000 hours of moving image material. Progressing through the ranks, David became the Head of Preservation in the 1990s and then transitioned to the Head of Digital Collections in 2012. Additionally, David was asked to become a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) Technical Commission in 2006. Excelling in the organization, David has since become their Training and Outreach Coordinator. He is truly a star.  

Here is a bit of background about David. He started working for the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in 1975, putting his master’s degree in chemistry to work as he joined a project to study the decomposition of cellulose nitrate film. He stayed on at the IWM, gaining greater experience in film preservation. At the time, film preservation was still relatively new, and many best practices had not been established yet. According to David, “I had to be self-taught. I did courses with Kodak and individuals, although I didn’t have any formal training. I had to do it all myself.” With that came a lot of learning from past mistakes. The process involved trial and error, often reversing what was considered best practices due to later-realized problems. He shared a story about his early years working at the IWM as he and his boss came across a film that was coming up for its turn in their preservation program:

It was a training film made for the Royal Air Force RAF in the late 1930s, before the war started. We had the original negatives and the original soundtracks of three or four reels. But the soundtrack of one of the reels had started to decompose at the front. I remember the fun of my boss, who had absolutely no clue, trying to work out what to do about this. Although the film had gone sticky, the soundtrack along the edge was perfectly readable. It’s just the rest of the area of the film had gone all tacky and had yellow sticky blocks so it wouldn’t run through the printer very well. He had managed to get it on the film projector and make a copy of the sound. Which we then used to make a new optical negative; which we then used to splice on the original after the damage had gone past. It was a fascinating process, but the results were terrible. In later years, I realized what a daft exercise that was! It was the blind leading the blind, but with the right intentions. From that point on, I began to understand how to do these things properly.

As he continued his work in the film and video archives of the IWM, David encountered interesting challenges concerning the technology for film and digitization:

First of all, the film technology itself, and it turned out to be a huge subject. And I’m always surprised by the number of things we discovered in the vaults. We didn’t know quite what it was or how it worked. It was very often the case ‘ooh I’ve never seen that before,’ and [that] this had been something that [had] been used at some point in film production- at some point that enjoyed a little bit of success and had gone out of favor. There are always surprises in film stores. That remains a big issue. Particularly people who think they can digitize their entire collection. You think, ‘We’ve got a big collection and it’s quite well documented, let’s digitize it.’ Within a moment of starting, you run into the first can, and [when] you open [it] you think: ‘whoa, what is that,’ ‘how does that work,’ ‘I don’t understand how this fit in the production chain,’ ‘do we need to digitize it.’

Meeting all of these challenges and gaining greater expertise, David was promoted to Head of Preservation for film at the IWM. However, it all started to become a little too routine for his tastes. I asked about his interest and later transition to Head of Digital Preservation, and this is what he had to say:

Digital came along at the right time. I was actually getting quite bored with film preservation. I was beginning to think I had learnt it all or most of it. Then digital started. We had no ability to store digital data, and there were no formats apart from highly proprietary ones that were attached to particular bits of equipment. It was all about sending the film off to the digital lab. They would scan it; they would do any of the restoration work that we agreed and then write it back on to our film negative. At the end of the day, you got a new negative and a new print. And the new digital data was offered, and we said, ‘sorry, what are we going to do with it?’ The amount of data was so vast [in] those days. A terabyte of data in the year 2000 was an unmanageable amount of stuff. But I found myself in the position where I was increasingly working in both camps [film and digital]. I kind of became the guy who understood digital in the museum and having been the guy who understood film technology. I found it interesting because it keeps the brain functioning to learn new stuff. And it was very much new stuff. The technology was developing as fast as we could keep up with it. It was only 5 or 6 years after our first foray into digital that we found ourselves taking in digital tapes with digital stuff on it. That sat in my office for another 6 years. It wasn’t until that point where the museum progressed to the point where they had a digital mass storage system capable of taking all of this data. And then we had to pay someone to read the tape backs. There were no standards. The tape format was standardized but the file format wasn’t. So we had to have someone who remembered how it was done. 

In addition to the IWM, David has been involved with FIAF for many decades. The mission of FIAF is to connect non-profit moving image archives throughout the world, and provide expertise, resources, and awareness of its members. FIAF achieves this by highlighting or hosting conferences, symposiums, screenings, and training events all over the globe. Currently, FIAF consists of over 170 member institutions representing 79 countries. When asked about his initial involvement with FIAF, David remarked on the importance of professional organizations to moving image archivists:

I first found myself invited into the FIAF Technical Commission which was fun. And that was really good. You couldn’t learn digital stuff by sitting in your office on your own. In a museum where no one else had any clue about this new stuff. You really needed to get out and talk to other people and find out what others were doing. Learn from the professionals and amateurs and the like. 

Involvement in FIAF for David, much like the organization itself, soon expanded across the globe. He advanced from a member of the Technical Commission to the head of the commission. Wanting to improve the commission, he started asking people what they would like the commission to do. What should and could it do? The major feedback he received was the need for assistance with training staff. FIAF and David realized the value in training and education for archives, culminating in FIAF creating a formal post for training and outreach. David became the Training and Outreach Coordinator in 2016. He has since traveled all over the world to visit various archives in need of assistance with training and resources. Through this experience, David recognizes the importance of advocating for greater investment in moving image archives, especially in the developing world. He ended our conversation with these final thoughts: 

My main preoccupation at the moment is how do we stop the rest of film heritage around the world from disappearing, the stuff that hasn’t gone. Particularly in lower income countries in the global south or in the tropics. The thing is, I don’t have a solution. It looks like looking after old film is an insurmountable problem that you are never going to solve unless you are in a temperate climate, and you have lots of money. I don’t have an answer for this and I’m still looking for one. My worry is that we are going to lose a huge amount of footage in the next 10 years because it’s all reaching the end of its life. We are going to lose a huge amount of video material as well because time is already running out, and in some cases, already run out to copy this stuff. There aren’t enough machines with head life left to copy even a small part of video tapes that are sitting in vaults around the world. Everyone thinks digital is the answer and then we are going to have some digital disasters too because people don’t understand how difficult it is to preserve digital stuff.

Those last thoughts were very poignant and something I hadn’t truly considered in their entirety, especially about storing digital information.

Before we signed out of Zoom, I asked David to rate our conversation on a scale from 10 to 10. He ranked it an 11. David is full of wit and humor, and it was an absolute joy to speak with him. It is not every day that you get a chance to speak with an expert in their field, so when you do, it’s hard to contain the excitement.

If you are interested in learning more about his current work, please visit FIAF.

Interview an Archivist: A Conversation with Anne Gant

By Alison Summer-Ramirez

On February 21st, at about three A.M. Eastern Standard Time, I was fueled by an almost unhealthy amount of caffeine and anxiety. While this may seem like a strange time to be awake, I was on a mission. On the other side of the globe, six hours ahead in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, it was nine A.M. and the start of the workday for Archivist Anne Gant. Thankfully, she set aside time for an interview with me.

Anne Gant

Anne Gant is the Head of Film Conservation and Digital Access at the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Before that, Anne earned her Master’s in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image from the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and worked at commercial and GLAM (gallery, library, archives, and museum) positions back in the United States. Anne is active in several professional film preservation organizations, including being the Head of the Technical Commission at the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), which supplies technical guidance and standards in the restoration and preservation of physical and digital moving image materials to archives around the world. Other memberships include the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), the International Council of Museums, and the International Council of Archives. Anne’s work and research focuses on improving methods of film digitization, conservation, and access in the digital environment.

Admittedly, I attempted to look up Anne before this interview, but had some difficulty, as I could only find results for an Anne Gant who was a glass artist. When I brought this up, Anne revealed that she was the same Anne Gant. Her first career was centered around art and art conservation. While back in the United States, Anne pursued her artistic side, earning a BFA in sculpture from the Parsons School of Design and a MFA in Glass from Temple University. I was thrilled at this because I have a fascination with glassblowing and glass art as a whole. I shared this with Anne, and we discussed the beauty and the pain that comes with working with glass.

She still creates glass art but at this time she has decided to take a break to reposition herself relative to climate change. This shifted our discussion to the potential environmental impact of archives especially in relation to the energy demands of digital preservation and cold storage for film preservation. Anne expressed hope that continued scientific study of cold storage film preservation practices will yield lower energy options, “I hope the community can do some studies in the next couple of years and maybe agree that we can turn down the energy a tiny bit and not keep everything so cold.” Continued discussion involved how archiving and preserving objects is, in a way, “going against nature” by delaying decomposition. That archivists are busy trying to “cheat the death’ of an object; in this case a film.

For Anne, archives and film conservation is her second, or third, career. While pursuing preservation and conservation work previously in America, the move to Europe sparked an urge for further education to adjust to living in another country, “… I’d already been working with museums, and I’d already been working in digital and commercial businesses. And I thought, ‘Oh, if I’m going to come to Europe … one of the best ways to connect with a society or figure out what’s going on [is to] go to school.” We discussed how these two careers, art and film preservation, connect and conflict with each other, “… I found it very amazing when I first encountered film that you’re always working on duplication of the material. And that was just mind-blowing to me because I come from an object conservation world.” I have encountered a similar narrative that I have run into with other professionals in the field of archives and preservation, especially if they have chosen this path as their second career. By having a diverse background, the archivist or librarian is able to apply their previous experience in an unexpected way to their current work. In Anne’s case this meant taking her knowledge of art, conservation and preservation, and the digital world and using them to digitize films and the cultural heritage of the Netherlands.

The Eye team celebrating an ingest milestone.
It takes a whole team to care for digital heritage! Some of the Eye archivists, registrars, restorers and information specialists celebrate an ingest milestone. From left to right: Andréa Seligmann Silva, Jim Wraith, Kirsten de Hoog, Martine Bouw, Annike Kross, Anne Gant.

To wrap up our interview, I asked two questions. The first of these consisted of what aspect of her work she enjoys the most. To this, she replied “One of the things I really, really enjoy is this sense of international collaboration. I really love that there is a network of archives all over the world helping to care for each other’s films. And I like being able to see that there is this world community.” This answer speaks to her many memberships in film preservation organizations. The sense of community and camaraderie also strongly attracted me to this field.

Lastly, I wondered what Anne’s least favorite part of her work was. She answered with the lack of recognition for the critical importance of collection processing and cataloguers, “I very much dislike trying to convince people that registration is essential and that cataloguers are essential. I can’t believe it’s not something that people understand from their core.” This has been a recurring theme in my own studies. Anne explained the necessity of being able to find an object once it is processed and placed into a collection. The lack of appropriate procedures for cataloging can lead to issues with accessibility and can be costly in time and resources needed to resolve the resulting issue.

It was an incredible experience to be able to talk with Anne Gant. I am grateful for the opportunity to gain an insight into the field of film archives, especially outside of the United States. Issues confronting Anne, namely concerns about environment sustainability, digital preservation, and robust cataloging, are ongoing concerns I, and likely much of the film archives world, encounter regularly. For further information about the Eye Film Museum and to keep up with Anne’s latest work, visit the Eye Film Museum website.

Home Movie Preservation: A Conversation with CK Ming

By Heidi Yarger

First, a brief biography: CK Ming received their undergraduate degree in film production at American University, where they were exposed to film preservation and the works of Oscar Micheaux through a silent film course they took in their last semester. They went on to pursue a Moving Image Archiving and Preservation degree at New York University. After their time at NYU, CK worked in the film department at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). They went on to work on the South Side Home Movie Project in Chicago, where they stayed until moving onto their current position at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They are also on the National Film Preservation Board, serve as the chair for the Pathways Fellowship program through the Association of Moving Images (AMIA) and serve as a Director of the Board, and are on the Board of Directors at the Center for Home Movies.

In April, I had the great pleasure of talking with CK Ming, Media Conservation and Digitization Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). A large portion of their work is focused on the Robert F. Smith Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History at the Smithsonian. The Robert F. Smith Center aids institutions and individuals around the country in preserving their heritage. They have a mobile digitization truck equipped with a film scanner, video racks, a DAT tape player, and basic audio recording equipment. Along with the truck, the Smith Center travels with a professional still image photography set-up, which people can use to get yearbooks, recipes, and other precious ephemera professionally photographed for digital storage. CK gave me an idea about the other kinds of work the Smith Center facilitates by describing a project they worked on recently with a museum in Lawrenceville, Virginia. The museum got in touch after saving documents and records from a now defunct HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) called Saint Paul’s College. Archivists from the Smith Center traveled to Lawrenceville and held a community archiving workshop where they taught volunteers how to identify media, create image descriptions, and construct inventories with the items that were saved, all in the span of a one-day workshop. “So that’s a big thing that the Smith Center does,” CK told me, “Working with communities and trying to meet their needs.” 

Along those lines, one of the major themes in our conversation was the realm of community curation and the role archivists play in public preservation and digitization projects. In addition to working with the Smith Center, CK works on the Great Migration Home Movie Project through NMAAHC. This project began in 2017 and focuses on collecting and digitizing home movies from African American communities. Home movie preservation is not new for CK, who played a major role in the South Side Home Movie Project in Chicago before moving on to NMAAHC. Connecting film archive professionals with locals in south Chicago neighborhoods, the South Side Home Movie Project aims to preserve, digitize, and screen amateur moving image material. Much of our discussion revolved around the differences in media storage, cataloging, web access, and donor relationships between the two projects. The South Side Home Movie Project is a much smaller, more localized operation than the Great Migration Project. This has both advantages and disadvantages. Unlike the Great Migration Project, South Side keeps the original movies from their donors. So when starting, one of the first things CK did was find physical storage for the collection. They also worked on creating a digital storage space, web portal, and catalog so that the collection could be accessible to the public. Building from the ground up, they implemented CollectiveAccess, an online system for the digital archive. On the other hand, the Smithsonian uses The Museum System (TMS), which, CK told me is, “not so great for describing film and video and media.” However, because the system is already in place, there isn’t much flexibility to implement a new one. 

Differences between the two projects continued with metadata collection. In terms of creating metadata for home movies, at South Side, the team spends a considerable amount of time with donors, often recording oral interviews and maintaining those relationships over time, which is a huge benefit of being a locally focused collection. CK has also imported taxonomic terms from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Chicago Film Archive, which will be used in a large-scale project to add metadata to the items. In contrast, with the Great Migration Project people often come in to have one or two tapes digitized and might not be seen again. In that short time frame, the team isn’t always able to collect the information they need to contextualize the movies, which makes it difficult when they are creating metadata online. However, because the Great Migration Project is a study collection, often when scholars come to look at movies, they can contribute tags and keywords to add while researching. The collection spans from the 1930s all the way to 2008, and the team has a goal to add as many tags and item-level descriptions as possible. Both projects aim to have the greatest accessibility for the students, families, and communities using the materials.

Discussions of home movie collection access and use in the Great Migration Project provided insight into the nature of home movies and potential limitations on use. Occasionally, filmmakers ask for permission to use footage from the home movies, but CK told me that isn’t really what the collection is meant for, and that most requests are turned down. We talked about the relationship home movies hold as media originally made for private use and how that shifts when they enter a public archive. It can be challenging to respect the intimate nature of home movie recordings, while still supplying valuable materials for researchers and others in an archives’ designated community. Establishing the use limits for home movie collections is critical to respecting the originators of content.

I asked CK if they saw home movies gaining more archival and institutional recognition in the future. They felt home movie preservation was not seen as something large archives do unless the movies are connected to someone famous, and that it becomes difficult to decide what to save when you are considering how much space you have, “if all the movies are important, then you have to accept all home movies with limited resources.” In the future, CK hopes that advances in storage technology will change this reality. However, they also expressed their happiness that people who are entering the field seem to have a greater interest in home movie preservation, “I do think more scholarly work needs to be done…to advance home movie preservation. And it is exciting.” 

Processing Update on the Alan Lewis Collection

By Caleb Allison, Associate Instructor, PhD Student, The Media School 

As the Alan Lewis Collection continues to be processed new and exciting discoveries continue to be made about the diverse collection of motion picture technologies ranging from the 1920s up to the 1980s. For one, we’ve learned that early in his career Alan Lewis worked right here in Bloomington, IN! Lewis worked for the Public Television Library (PTL) of PBS between 1973-74. PTL worked closely with the Indiana University Audio-Visual Center (IUAVC), a precursor to the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive, and WTIU Public Television to acquire nonlocal TV programs for national distribution. Throughout his long career with motion pictures Lewis also worked as a TV producer and director, and eventually Director of Programming, for WEDU-TV out of Tampa, Florida, and as the Director of the CBS News Film and Videotape Archives.

Most recently Lewis worked for the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. Eventually, Lewis started collecting the very technologies making the images he oversaw during his career. Amassing a collection of over 200 cameras, projectors, viewers, and editors, along with many of their original cases, sales boxes, instruction manuals, and accessories, the diversity and breadth of his collection offers an important and unique snapshot of motion picture history.

One of the true gems of the collection is a 16mm Ciné-Kodak Model B in ostrich leather with matching case. In production from 1927-1931 the Model B was the Cadillac of amateur cameras. The 1928 edition of Amateur Movie Making lists the price of the ostrich leather option at an additional $75. The standard Model B retailed for about $225, bringing the total price of the ostrich edition to a cool $300. Inflated for today $300 becomes $4,300!

The cleaning and testing of these cameras has been supplemented with motor recordings when possible. Amazingly, this Ciné-Kodak still runs after 90 years and has a beautiful purr you can listen to here:

Here’s a small sample of some other sweet motor sounds from the collection:

A selection of moving image technologies from the collection are part of two new exhibits located in the lobby of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA) and the ground floor lobby of the IU Cinema. The Ciné-Kodak in ostrich leather can be viewed at the Archive. These exhibits seek to reveal the incremental evolution and vast diversity of amateur and home moviemaking equipment, as well as its beauty. From the extravagant ostrich leather casings of the 16mm Ciné-Kodak to the industrial portability of the 8mm Revere series exists the aesthetic blending of art and utility. The collection not only hosts a diversity of motion picture cameras, but a selection of their original cases and even sales boxes, as well as projectors and viewer/editors. The collection represents an important form of moving image history and technology outside of commercial Hollywood production. These are the objects that captured and shared the everyday, the familial, the nontheatrical, and so much more.

Come visit the display case in the Moving Image Archive space on the ground floor of Wells Library!

One of my personal favorites is the Super 8mm Yashica Super-800 Electro camera. Produced between 1970 and 1974, it has an atomic-age look reminiscent more of the 1950s than the 1970s. Sporting a sleek, all-black camera body, retro graphics, and colorful dials, including a seemingly arbitrary but super-cool 1950s atom graphic on its speed dial, bright green battery check light, and baby blue footage counter, it stands uniquely apart from its collection counterparts. The Yashica Super-800 is also part of the IULMIA exhibit, and its progenitor, the Yashica Super-60 Electronic, can be found in the IU Cinema’s exhibit.

Moving forward with the collection the Moving Image Archive plans to preserve and maintain the working order of the projectors and cameras while restoring those that can be fixed. They are undoubtedly beautiful machines but many of them are also functional, and their exhibition as well as their utility will be used to offer experience and education to students and film lovers alike.