A Conversation with Simona Monizza, Curator at EYE

The EYE New Filmmuseum in Amsterdam
The EYE New Filmmuseum in Amsterdam

In late February, 2013, I had the pleasure of speaking with Simona Monizza, Curator at the EYE New Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, formerly known as the EYE Film Institute. The museum embraces, exhibits and teaches about film on multiple levels. It serves as a space with both permanent and rotating exhibits and there are film screenings daily. EYE is devoted to film archiving, restoration and collecting.

Although she has worked with EYE for over 13 years, Monizza’s role with the institute has changed somewhat over the years. After graduating from the Selznick School in Rochester, NY, she worked for one year with the British Film Institute and then moved to Amsterdam to work for the EYE Institute as a restorer. Working as a film restorer her duties were quite diverse. She was in charge of doing all of the prep work for multiple projects. This involved collecting any materials which might have information about a title, comparing different film elements, writing condition reports, deciding the best path to take for a particular project, working alongside the restorers at Haghefilm and overseeing quality control. As there was a flurry of projects going on at this time, she was often overseeing multiple film projects in various stages simultaneously. At this time, both Haghefilm and EYE were located in the same building. She said it was really great to be working side-by-side individuals in this amazing lab. There was one year in which they restored 400 films. Given the copious amount of time and energy it takes for just one film, this is truly astounding.

Interactive exhibit at the EYE Film Museum
Interactive exhibit at the EYE New Filmmuseum

EYE has a large collection of silent, amateur, experimental, animation and mainstream films including the largest collection of Dutch films in the world. Each genre has its own Collection Specialist who works closely with that particular collection. EYE is continuing to add to their existing collection of 40,000 films, which Monizza is directly involved in. After working as a Collection Specialist, she is now the Curator of the Experimental Film Collection. For film, this involves preserving, collecting and cataloging. If there is a particular filmmaker whose films they want to have in their collection, she will actively go to them and try to get their material. This entails going to their house to check the condition of the film elements, creating an inventory and a contract. There have been many times when filmmakers don’t know where a lot of their elements are or their collections are very disorganized which only adds to the complexity of her role and tracking down crucial bits of information. At times there is a lot of sleuthing involved. Her focus however, is more on film collections not just individual titles. She said this is a very time consuming but exciting process because there are always new and interesting things to be discovered. Other times filmmakers approach her to see if their works can be taken in to EYE’s collection. In addition she develops programs at EYE to showcase these newly acquired films and finds ways to connect people to the exhibits. EYE also has a distribution branch which filmmakers can submit their films to. A jury watches these films once a month and can select titles they would like to integrate into their existing collections.

She discussed the difficulty in deciding what to digitize from their collection. “It’s not easy, some collections are easier to digitize than others” she stated, “and the experimental ones offer many challenges in this regard due to their material characteristics.” In order for films to be digitized, copies must be in good condition.

“The state of the film determines its preservation path. At the moment we still preserve on film but also digitize for access. Under access we understand many things, like making Digital Cinema Packages for distribution of short films, or giving online access to part of our collection through some websites.”

Many reversal prints need to be graded, which is another time consuming step that takes place in their lab. EYE is currently not able to scan nitrate or Super 8 films. As they are in many archives, things in the digital realm are progressing rapidly. Demand for immediate access is on the rise and EYE must try and keep up with people’s needs.

EYE receives roughly 80% of their funds from The Netherlands’ government. This contrasts largely to how archives are operated in the United States, which rely heavily on grant funding and donations for projects. In recent years however, not as much money has been devoted to restoration projects and more weight is being put on EYE to find their own funding sources.

Given that her background is in analog work, Monizza is not as excited about the future of digital worrying that it may replace analog completely.

“Both technologies are used in our restorations and the best results come from the combination of both, but it hurts to see so much knowledge and expertise on film disappear so quickly.”

As many individuals do, she feels that there is often more talk about what should be done about the death of film than there are actions being taken to prevent it. As her role has changed over the years and she has adapted, she is certain that she will continue to do so and carve out her own niche in the film world. Her last words of advice for anyone entering this field were to learn as much about the digital aspects of film preservation as possible, without forgetting what film is.

~Asia Harman

The Accidental Archivist: Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image Section, Library of Congress

Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress
Mike Mashon, head of Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress

“I never really intended to be an archivist,” says Mike Mashon, after recounting his diverse educational background.  Mashon, the Head of Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress, received his undergraduate degree in Microbiology from Louisiana State University, going on to pursue a Master’s in the same field at the University of Texas. Working for the Texas Department of Health, he was the first person the organization ever hired to conduct research on AIDS.  Yet the longer he worked with science, the less he wanted to make it a career.

Mashon’s early involvement with what would eventually become the South by Southwest Festival, as well as his presence on the University of Texas Film Committee, rekindled his long-standing love of movies and television.  Earning a Master’s in Radio/TV/Film at Texas, he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1996, writing his thesis on the relationship between advertising agencies and television networks in the 1940s and 1950s.  After serving as curator at the Library of American Broadcasting, he became Curator of Moving Images for the Library of Congress in 1998, a position he held until being named the Head of the Moving Image Section in 2005.

The National Audio Visual Conservation Center
The National Audio Visual Conservation Center

At the National Audio Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC), Mashon oversees the cataloging, processing, physical integrity, storage and preservation of film and video, also conducting personnel management and setting goals and budgets for the fiscal year.  Mashon also attends National Film Preservation Board meetings, advising on which films will be added to the National Film Registry every year.  Although administrative work encompasses the majority of his duties (Mashon jokes he is a “mid-level government bureaucrat”), he is especially interested in outreach and access initiatives, particularly when it comes to the NAVCC’s online presence.

Since little moving image content has been added to the Library’s web site in the past decade, Mashon is working to expand the NAVCC’s web presence by creating a blog and making videos about the organization’s workflows operations.  He recently acquired an HD camera to start making informational videos about the preservation process at the NAVCC, following a film or tape through the entirety of the preservation process, with the finished product being the film itself available online.  Mashon notes that one of the goals of the NAVCC is to provide outreach services not only to the local community but to members of the archival field as well – these informational videos would undoubtedly be an excellent resource for fellow archivists.

With the Library of Congress beginning to change its web architecture, it is becoming increasingly efficient to get moving image content on the web.  Mashon spoke at length of the NAVCC’s more than 3,000 paper prints, which he deems “the crown jewel of our collection.”  Paper prints were used to establish copyright in the early days of cinema, between the years 1894-1912, and Mashon notes “[you] can’t really write a meaningful history of American film without referring to the paper prints.”  A number of the films in this collection have been transferred to other formats (16mm, 35mm), but only 500 of them – scans of 35mm reprints from the 1990s – are available online.  Mashon notes that the only way a person would be able to view the remaining 2,500 prints in the collection would be to go to Washington D.C. – his goal is to eventually have the entirety of the collection scanned for access, using technologies such as the MWA Vario to scan 16mm negatives in real-time.  Although the resulting files won’t be subjected to much digital cleanup other than speed correction, Mashon notes that the convenience of researchers not having to travel to D.C. makes this a worthy endeavor.

One of the paper prints held by the Library of Congress
One of the paper prints held by the Library of Congress

For those interested in film archiving work, Mashon advises that archivists starting out in the field need to be comfortable with digital technologies and metadata, as opportunities to use preservation experience skills will shrink over time. Many of the NAVCC technicians have degrees in library science rather than film preservation, emphasizing the importance of well-rounded skills.  Mashon remarks that while the physical work of film preservation requires no small amount of skill, cataloging conistently proves to be an enormous challenge.  Thus, a library science background will come in handy for the important task of information management.

Regarding the future of film preservation, Mashon remarks that he is slightly optimistic despite the inevitability of film stock production ceasing. He would like to see the creation of digital cinema packages at the NAVCC, noting that, while continuing to make prints would be ideal, only a handful of facilities would be able to screen these prints in the future.  One example is that of significant film-print restorations the NAVCC has undertaken, for films such as Baby Face and All Quiet on the Western Front.  While Mashon would like for audiences to be able to appreciate these films on the medium for which they were intended, he does not want to deny access to those facilities that may only be able to screen digital cinema packages.   “If you’re not going to make it available to people as widely as possible – you’re just going to shut it away in a dark archive – there’s hardly any point in doing it,” he adds.

Mashon finds his work fulfilling, and he is quick to note the hard work undertaken by his employees at the NAVCC:  “There’s nothing quite like being able to share the work of the Library of Congress with others. I’m always very humbled by that because I’m just representing the many wonderful people I work with who do the hands-on work.”

Perhaps most striking about Mashon is his passion about ensuring access for future generations of film lovers.  “Film, television and radio are such powerful communicative media that we feel that is definitely worth our best effort to make sure that it’ll be preserved for those future generations.”

~Kaitlin Conner

Greg Wilsbacher of the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina

Greg Wilsbacher of the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina
Greg Wilsbacher of the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina

Greg Wilsbacher is the curator of the newsfilm collections at the Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina. He earned his a PhD in British Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. His major area of focus was late fourteenth century vernacular poetry with a special emphasis on William Langland’s Piers Plowman. Wilsbacher’s dissertation explored the ethical nature of reading medieval poetry within the contemporary setting of the university at the turn of the millennium.  After receiving his PhD, Wilsbacher was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina’s Department of English.  He taught, “the types of English courses that most faculty teach.” He also served as the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies.  Wilsbacher began working at the University of South Carolina’s libraries in 2002. He began at the libraries with the intention of working as a Rare Books Librarian. However, library administrators asked him to take over the Newsfilm Library and begin the task of making the unit into a special collections library.  So, from 2004 to 2009 he served as Director of the Newsfilm Library.  In 2009, Wilsbacher became Curator of Newsfilm Collections at the Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) when the university reorganized the film archives to reflect the growth of collections beyond newsreels and television news.

After becoming a curator and archivist, he earned a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina. Wilsbacher’s duties as curator include, conducting foundational research on the newsreels, representing the collection in a number of external venues, selecting materials from collections for targeted preservation when funds are made available, and conducting “development activities to either assist administration in the raising of monies to support the unit or to acquire new donations for the unit.” He also maintains, MIRC’s “main online reference catalog and conduct[s] original cataloging for new elements,” in his collection area, provides instructional support to classes as needed, and oversees, “the operations of the 2K/4K scanner at MIRC,” trains others in its use, and “(yes) provide maintenance support for the scanner.”  Wilsbacher also has the responsibility to write grants and when those grant applications are successful has the responsibility of bring either the PI or Co-PI. He also oversees the “object collections” (antique cameras, projectors, etc.). Lastly, Wilsbacher stated, “there is a film handling station in my office that I use regularly – in other words, I’m still prepping, splicing, and repairing film.”

An image from the Fox Movietone Newsreel Collection
An image from the Fox Movietone Newsreel Collection

The University of South Carolina’s Newsfilm Library was founded in 1980 with the donation of the Fox Movietone News Collection. USC, “like Indiana University, has a long history as an important regional educational film library,” and in this way, “has been in the film business since the 1940s.” Since 1980, USC’s archival holdings have increased to approximately six-thousand hours of material, including local television news and commercials, home movies, micro-cinematographic nature films, and fiction and documentary films from the People’s Republic of China. MIRC , like most archives relies heavily on federal grants to fund their preservation projects. MIRC also has, “its own foundation account into which monetary donations are channeled.” The annual interest of its foundation account is used for, “active preservation projects (typically nitrate film preservation).” MIRC’s newsreel library holds, “some 11 million feet of 35mm films.”

Wilsbacher stated the principle challenge faced when preserving newsreels to be conveying to funders and others what is being preserved. Only about 10% of the some eleven million feet of the 35mm films is in the edited form once shown to audiences in theaters. “In some sense, preserving ‘the newsreel’ isn’t a very complicated task.”  The university owns nitrate fine grain master positives of two- hundred and six edited newsreels from the World War II era.  In the late-1970s and early-1980s, the nitrate fine grain negatives were used by Twentieth Century Fox to print acetate duplicate negatives, which the university now owns as well.  These negatives are, “to some extent already preserved.  We know that the acetate won’t last forever unless we find colder storage for it, but…you know, that work is essentially done.” In addition, all two- hundred and six newsreels are available online, “so, access, ‘done’.” The other 90% of the some eleven million feet of the 35mm films is, “where the excitement lies but also where others can get confused.”

According to Wilsbacher,

“Raw camera newsfilm isn’t always easy to watch.  It can be disorienting depending on how the cameraman went about filming the shots.  Really good cameramen could edit in camera and produce on the negative a story needing little editing. But they were the exception, not the norm.  Preserving this type of content requires clear communication with the funding source about the nature of the materials being printed.  At USC we preserve outtake and unused films “as is” without attempting to create something new.  If the film shows five different takes of a businessman talking about the stock market, we’ll preserve all five takes.   If, as we did last year, we decided to make projection prints of a films being preserved we will consider editing the content to create a print that would be enjoyable to a film enthusiast audience.  In one case we opted to make a projection print of one take of a story rather than insisting on two.”

Since Wilsbacher has been working in film preservation, the single biggest change has been, “the meaning of the word ‘preservation’.” In 2004, “the unquestioned gold standard for film preservation was traditional photochemical reprinting onto polyester-based stock.” Even though Wilsbacher was given the job of bringing the Newsfilm Library into the “digital age,” he is still

“saddened by the collapse of the photochemical option. Traditional optical printing practices in the hands of a skilled technician could work wonders with 80-year old nitrate negatives.  Those days are over.  Even when you want a photochemical print as the end product, most shops are scanning to DI and then making a final film out.”

Wilsbacher stated a concern regarding the scanning of negatives to DI:

“We’re still trying to figure out how such new processes are impacting the preservation work.  The DI world has brought with it a new wave of patents and proprietary knowledge, so it is not as easy to get labs to describe in detail the process and equipment used to make preservation elements.  I think, however, we have a right to know what we’re paying for.”

Greg Wilsbacher at work.
Greg Wilsbacher at work.

Wilsbacher curates, “over 8 million feet of nitrocellulose films stock and another 8+ million feet of acetate film,” so from his prespective, there is no “end of film”, and film “isn’t going anywhere.” He does have concerns about equipment but also hopes 3-D printers will make repairing some types of film handling equipment easier in the future. Wilsbacher also believes, “as long as someone makes quality film stocks, we will make polyester preservation prints of high priority films.”  When asked how the end of film will affect his work, Wilsbacher replied that his

“biggest concern lies in the loss of an essentially open work environment where patents didn’t lock down the most basic elements of our jobs.  To be sure, the film world fought these patent fights long ago but we’re facing them again. I think that we have to fight for open-source tools so that we can control the work we do.”

~Megan Brant

Katie Trainor of the Museum of Modern Art

Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

Katie Trainor is the Film Collections Manager at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Since the founding of the museum in 1928, MoMA has placed great importance on representing and introducing “the only great art form peculiar to the twentieth century.” The first chairman of the Museum’s Film Library, David O. Selznick sent then curator of film, Iris Barry, to Hollywood to try and persuade industry leaders to donate prints. An innovative idea for the time, Hollywood soon responded- studios, actors and producers such as  Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century-Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Harold Lloyd, Walt Disney,  William S. Hart, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks donated prints to the infant archive. Barry would later travel through Europe and the Soviet Union collecting international films and making connections with many European filmmakers. In 1937, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the Museum with an award for “its significant work in collecting films . . . and for the first time making available to the public the means of studying the historical and aesthetic development of the motion picture as one of the major arts.”

Now, eighty-odd years later, the collection consists of 25,000 titles and “ranks as one of the world’s finest museum archives of international film art.” The archive represents every major artist of the silent era- as well as many of the innovators of sound technology.  Films by artist such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Paul Strand, along with animators and experimental filmmakers, expand the collection past feature films and enhance its already astounding cultural significance  The donation of films continue today with many of the industry’s best directors and producers, such as Clint Eastwood, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, and many others, donating their films. Due to the size and preservation needs of the Film Collection, the Museum opened The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in 1996. Located in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, the center offers a “flexible system or temperature- and humidity- controlled vaults, which can adapt as the collection increases and preservation techniques advance.”

The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, located in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, opened in 1996.
The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, located in Hamlin, PA, opened in 1996.

Katie’s position as Film Collections Manager has her managing “the preservation pipeline, supervising the preservation Center in Hamlin PA, collaborating with other FIAF archives [International Federation of Film Archives, of which MoMA is a founding member] on preservation…” as well as managing non film related materials. After handling film at the Harvard Film Archive where she worked for eight years, Katie attended the Selznick School at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. She has since worked at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as a projectionist, at the Harvard Film Archive managing the Cinema and archives, at the Jacob Burns Center as Director of Operations, the IFC Center managing the theater of operations, and, presently, MoMA. Katie made it clear that she “was and still [is] an archival projectionist.” She credits the handling and the projecting of film at the Harvard Film Archive for her love of the artifact that is film and it is where her desire to “take care of it” was formed.

As a member of the museum culture, she is but one person in the Curatorial Department. In a large institution such as MoMA, inter-departmental collaboration is essential. The acquisition process in a museum archive is also different from other archives. Films are often sought out by a curator or member of the curatorial department, researched, and then pitched to the Curatorial Board where they discuss whether or not the film fits in to the current collection and/or the future direction the collection would like to go. If it is, the museum makes plans to acquire it. In an institution like MoMA, there is a mission statement to follow and an image to consistently project and, because of this, they may be more selective about the films they take and also about the films they prioritize for preservation.

When it comes to preservation, MoMA’s Film Archive currently does not digitize widely  They still preserve film to film and this is because of the museums interest in not only preserving the content of the film but also the art form of movie making itself. However this method of preservation can and will eventually need to be addressed by MoMA. As Katie acknowledged the “eminent demise of motion picture stock” is a major problem. MoMA will eventually have to address the idea of digital preservation, but as of right now they are “still very committed to photochemical preservation.”

My interview with Katie was very informative regarding how museums, specifically art museums, view film and the archive/preservation of that film. For them it is not only the content of the film which is significant to cultural artistic heritage and movie history, but also the film itself, as an artistic and creative artifact that belongs to a unique form of artistic expression. Certainly this is the case for other film archives, but perhaps a film archive located in an art museum, especially one with the reputation and legacy of MoMA, has the ability to see beyond the “film” as something that is only important because of the moving image it contains and more as an artistic medium that in itself  is culturally important and worth saving.

~Rebecca Stanwick

References

“Film Preservation Center.” MoMA. Museum of Modern Art, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute

Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI)
Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI)

Like a newly donated film, there is much more to Jean-Louis Bigourdan than initially meets the eye.  On the surface, Jean-Louis lives a pastoral life –he lives on a farm complete with sheep and horses.  However, after interviewing him and hearing about his work at the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) in New York, it became clear that Jean-Louis also has a mind for science and art.  Jean Louis’ official title is research scientist, but his job requires a bit more clarification.  He explained,

My primary job is to conduct applied research focusing on providing new preservation strategies for cultural materials, mostly information-recording media such as films, microfilms, photographs, magnetic tapes… This includes identifying a problem, designing a research project to address the problem, developing a proposal and applying for funding, conducting the research, and disseminating findings by providing preservation strategies to museums, archives, and libraries.

Since I started at IPI I was fortunate enough to be able to go from one project to the next, and often dealt with several at the same time. What I do is a mix between conducting experiments, field surveys, data analysis, and providing education. For a number of years, I have also provided guidance to interns who come to IPI through the AMIA and Selznick School of Film Preservation; these internships are designed to provide insights into preservation research; I personally learn a lot from the interns and hope they learn a lot during their stay. All of them have contributed in various ways to the work we do at IPI.

Ipi_logo_new_2009_outlines

Jean-Louis has a background in chemistry and photography and has also studied the conservation of photographic materials.  His interest in film preservation began when he took a weeklong workshop on film preservation from Anne Cartier-Bresson.  He feels this broad and varied background has been quite beneficial in his current work, noting that,

I didn’t realize it at first, but in fact, the different parts fit well together to support my current activity. Chemistry, team work in the corporate world, studies in photography, museums and archives experience, studies in conservation and preservation of photographic materials, and the last twenty years or so working at IPI help a great deal to do what I do.

Because of Jean Louis’ extensive work with film, I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the end of film production.  Jean Louis feels that the end of film production makes film preservation all that more vital.  He explained,

[The end of film production] doesn’t mean that film preservation is dead, on the contrary. Film-based collections are numerous, and most importantly are irreplaceable. Today, preserving original film materials is even more critical for a couple of reasons. First, there is so much knowledge recorded on photographic film that reformatting most of it is daunting at least, and most likely an impossible task. Second, in many situations, viewing the original materials will still be the only way to appreciate the material. So, in both situations it is, and will be, an important task to make sure that these original objects survive as long as possible. To contrast that idea, I would say that most have no problem with the strategy, which consists in reformatting magnetic media as a preservation strategy. The old idea of preserving/restoring film using film media will have to be entirely abandoned at some point. People watch movies today in so many formats and venues. But many film collections will still be around if kept properly.

Jean Louis also emphasized the importance of film preservation in the specific context of his work and the work of the IPI.  When asked if he felt that his job might change with the end of film production, Jean Louis responded,

Not really, because as I said above, it is even more important today to do the best we can to preserve film materials, and movies in particular, in their original formats. Regarding film preservation today, my role, and IPI’s role is to make sure that what we have learned during twenty years of research is used, i.e., applied in the field in one form or another. In other words, I don’t think that we have to spend more money on research per se, but rather make a special effort to communicate and develop new tools. That is the idea behind the project I am working on right now. IPI receives funding from NEH to develop a web-based tool for film preservation: www.filmcare.org will be an educational but also a film preservation management tool.

After hearing about Jean Louis’ fascinating work at the Image Permanence Institute and his confidence in the necessity of the continuation of innovative work in film preservation, it would be difficult not to want to get involved.  It is fitting, then, to end with Jean Louis’ excellent advice for aspiring film archivists:

As I say often, preserving film is not only about film. Film archivists are responsible for many other materials, i.e., posters, publications, letters, scripts, stills, DVD, tapes… so the more you learn about other media and how to care for them, the better film archivists you will be.

~Colleen Martin

John Klacsmann of the Anthology Film Archives

Based in the East Village of Manhattan, the Anthology Film Archives has long held a place in the hearts of cinematically inclined artfolk.  With holdings comprised primarily of avant-garde and experimental art film, Anthology has evolved from its original conception as an experimental museum of film to a well-regarded, more traditional archive, with weekly film screenings, a reference library, preservation activities and a healthy dose of community outreach.

John Klacsmann (second from left) of the Anthology Film Archives
John Klacsmann (second from left) of the Anthology Film Archives

I recently spoke with John Klacsmann, one of the professional film archivists at Anthology, about the background necessary to pursue a career in film archiving and the future of the field in the face of increasing/encroaching digitization.

One of the first questions that came to mind to ask Klacsmann was how he came about film archiving. As a current student in the Archives Specialization at the IU School of Library and Information Science, it seems as though the obvious route of getting a degree in archiving and then maybe a degree in film studies would not leave you very well prepared. For example, at SLIS there is only one class directly related to moving image preservation and regardless of how amazing a single semester is, it can’t set you up for a lifework in film.

Klacsmann backed up this original assumption when providing his educational and professional background. While he stressed the importance of archiving best practices: planning preservation paths, processing new materials and collections and the overall attention to detail and minutiae at hand in archival organization, Klacsmann was also very clear that the skills he thought most essential and, perhaps for analog fetishists, under-appreciated were computer science related. In fact, though Klacsmann says he knew he wanted a career in film archiving science he began his undergraduate career, he choose to get a bachelors in computer science and receive much of his hands-on film experience at the time through working in his university’s film and media archive.

The Anthology Film Archives building in the East Village.
The Anthology Film Archives building in the East Village.

Although he has worked on projects like a 35mm film preservation project for the Eastman House at Technicolor Hollywood and with a collection of historical Technicolor dye-transfer equipment, Klacsmann says the skills he gained in pursuit of his computer science degree (playing with databases, filesystems, and building servers and RAID arrays, etc.) have become increasingly valuable as film archiving, in his experience, moves away from storage possibilities for physical materials and towards a digital future.

Later in the interview, Klacsmann said that

These types of [computer] skills are becoming increasingly important within the archiving field as digital restoration techniques take over and digitization and seamless video access to collections are on everyone’s mind.

The focus on digital video access, which at first glance might seem out of line with the ideals of an art-for-art’s-sake archive of experimental film, seems to be a topic that Klacsmann is very excited about.  I asked Klacsmann about his ideas on access in a film archive, which can be more challenging than in a paper archive due to playback issues. Anthology Film Archives maintains two theaters and has almost daily film screenings, so it would appear that large public screenings are their preferred method of archival access. He seems, however, to be more on the side of wide scale access than of traditional theatrical access, saying

I wouldn’t necessarily promote public screenings as the only or primary form of legitimate access. The ease and affordability of digitization, as well as internet connectivity, have come a long way in recent years. Being able to provide access to a worldwide audience through the internet – an audience much larger than only those who are able to visit us in New York City – is something we are tackling at Anthology now. We are planning to launch an online collections website this year where people can explore large portions of our collections – videos, photographs, audio, and documents – online.

Though Anthology Film Archive and the aforementioned digitization work expressed by Klacsmann represent a sort of financial solvency that is perhaps not the norm in the world of media archiving, the prophesied ability to combine daily public screens, access to reference materials, preservation and a publically accessible online collection is something of a dream scenario. The work of younger archivists like Klacsmann who have a knowledge and a certain comfort level with new technologies, while still retaining a love and respect for analog materials, will hopefully continue to shape moving image archives into more and more accessible institutions.

~Dorothy Berry

Carolyn Faber of the John M. Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Carolyn Faber, Film and Media Technician at the John M. Flaxman Library for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
Carolyn Faber, Media Collections Manager at the John M. Flaxman Library for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

Carolyn Faber is the Media Collections Manager at the John M. Flaxman Library for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Located in downtown Chicago, just a few blocks away from the Art Institute, Carolyn maintains a circulating collection of 16mm film prints, with access restricted to faculty and students. Carolyn had been a part of the field for several years after having studied filmmaking in college and working a variety of production jobs around the Chicago area before landing in a film archive. She has worked with film and moving image collections for 16 years due to her knowledge of 16mm film, including how to safely handle and repair it (meaning inspection, cleaning, and splicing), her familiarity with assessment and minor repair work of videotape, and her knowledge of digitization technologies and workflows. A few years ago, Carolyn decided to return to school for a master’s in Library Science. About this decision, she says, “It was mostly to expand on my existing skills and learn more about library environments – where I think some audio/visual collections can get kind of stuck in Special Collections ‘purgatory.’ But it was also practical – I wanted to get into higher-level jobs and saw that I was being passed over for lack of an advanced degree – I needed to be more competitive.”

At SAIC, Carolyn’s role is to keep fragile and damaged film prints in projectable condition, a tough job as commercial support for 16mm film continues to erode, she says. Replacing films with better quality projections can only be done once or twice a year, if at all, due to the challenge of cost and availability. When it comes to projecting the film, Carolyn has students and faculty trained and authorized by the Technical Managers in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA) department’s certification program. The school also has numerous projectors available in several classrooms, but the main building where much of the requests come from has a media center available for students and faculty to check out projectors for viewings in empty classrooms – equipment never leaves the building; only the film cans travel. In the library, the film collection is kept on a separate floor from the book collection, on top of storage shelves in the staff work area. Lining the perimeter are several library staff offices, including Carolyn’s. Inside her office, Carolyn has a desk, film projector, screen, film inspection bench, various video decks, and a monitor. Every film is inspected before going out in circulation. Up until this past August, Carolyn’s job was primarily a part-time student-worker position. With her role expanding, the position has been bumped to a full-time management job with one student assistant working eight to ten hours a week. Thanks to her assistant, Carolyn has been able to catalog the backlog of DVDs in the library’s collection, assess the 16mm film collection, work more closely with the media held in special collections, and foster relationships with frequent users of the collections, like the FVNMA department. Her assistant, meanwhile, handles the film print inspections and projection request schedule. Assessing the collection has been important for determining short- and long-term goals. About developing the collection, Carolyn says, “Space is at a premium so we have to consider acquisitions very carefully. I do handle purchasing of new prints but as to the curatorial aspect of developing the collection – that is done in collaboration with senior staff.”

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Films in the John M. Flaxman Library stacks.

Even though Carolyn and her assistant do all of the conservation work, she says there is not much more they can do to prevent damage from happening each time a film is checked out. Carolyn believes creating access to the collection for use in teaching includes keeping some damaged prints for use in preservation, media genealogies, and material studies classes. About the collection, Carolyn says, “Many prints in the collection have been so battered from their years in circulation that all we can do is make sure they project without breaking.” While she has all of the typical tools of a film archivist – a shrinkage gauge, splicer, film cleaner and cloths, Moviscope viewer, perfix tape, and white gloves – work is not extensive on the films due to time and the possibility of better prints being available elsewhere. When a print is red, she will tell the instructor and “nine out of ten times they won’t show it.” These are cases when Carolyn has to borrow from other collections, like Canyon Cinema, to maintain access. With the intent to make the most of the film collection at SAIC, Carolyn plans to conduct an overall evaluation of the collection to determine which prints the library could consider replacing, if they are in fact replaceable, and which newer 16mm film works they can consider purchasing and entering into the circulation collection, all in the name of access.

~Erin McCall

Lauren Sorensen: Analog Video Hero

I recently spoke with Lauren Sorensen, Preservation Project Manager at the Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco. Lauren graduated from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program at New York University and has since worked for the National Digitization Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), Canyon Cinema, San Francisco Cinematheque and now BAVC. Below she discusses preservation of analog videotape, working with artists and non-profits, and the future of moving image preservation.

Lauren Sorensen of the Bay Area Video Coalition
Lauren Sorensen of the Bay Area Video Coalition

What are your main job responsibilities as Preservation Project Manager?

My main responsibilities presently are preservationist for analog videotape for non-profits, archives, museums and libraries; preservationist and project manager for Dance Heritage Coalition partner project Dance Preservation & Digitization Project (formerly Secure Media Network), a digital repository of dance-related moving images; advising clients on collection care and handling; managing our collection assessment services; and metadata specialist.

What formats do you work with the most?

At this point in my work at BAVC, I’m not doing as much on the ground digitizing work, but I am definitely seeing the urgency now for preserving 1/2″ open-reel videotape, the first “portable” format financially (and physically) accessible to artists and non-profits such as dance companies and artists. We also work with Hi-8, Umatic and VHS quite a bit. I work advising our clients and building workflow for digital preservation, and I feel that is where my role at BAVC is headed moving forward. I often work with 10-bit uncompressed in a Quicktime *.mov wrapper, which is the preservation codec and wrapper we recommend to our clients currently for digitization from an analog source.

What is the most rewarding thing about your work?

For the Dance Heritage Coalition partner project, it is mainly discovering all the amazing possibilities associated with digital preservation and open source and the movement to open access; it can be very intimidating at first, but the software tools out there are really powerful and accessible if a little time is taken to learn. I feel like learning about these tools, because the standard now for analog videotape preservation is digital file, helps our smaller clients and I’m able to advise artists and those preserving their personal collections and I feel really good about being able to assist in that process.

Another rewarding thing about working at BAVC is that artists come in wanting to work on their personal legacy and life’s work. Sometimes we are able to put them in touch with an archive but there’s a complexity around that- even though their legacy videotape might be better cared for at an archive with temperature and humidity control or access to server storage, an artist may not want to let go of their work. While this is completely understandable, many times analog videotape is so unstable that it will not last over the course of one lifetime. So we often end up discussing more around the complexities of caring for video outside of a traditional setting, a very involved but ultimately very rewarding conversation, when we can do something to come to the service of this part of our constituency.

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How does content influence your work?

One aspect of the digitization process where content matters is in monitoring the signal and identifying between what was captured in the original recording and what are artifacts in transfer. We’re a partner on the A/V Artifact Atlas project and have just recently taken over maintenance of the wiki, which we will work on updating over the next two years, thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Additionally, there are instances especially with artist-made videotapes when it is unclear if something like sync loss or artifacts are original to the intention of the work; in this case, we work closely with the archivist and sometimes the artist, to determine the intention and how that fits into the preservation process.

In the Videotape Preservation Handbook, Jim Wheeler writes:

“It is assumed that there is intrinsic value in the recorded information or content and little, or no, intrinsic value in the original physical item itself.”

Would you agree that in the field of moving image preservation, there is no intrinsic value in the physical item?

We definitely come across artists who will use tape cases as art objects, and many times there are “traces” of what was produced before, such as metadata intrinsic to the value and provenance of the piece, so I would not agree with Wheeler’s statement especially regarding the community that we serve. Recording and maintaining this kind of legacy metadata is very important for digital preservation.

I’m constantly blown away by the amount of time and money involved in moving image preservation. Are there ever times where you wonder “is this worth it”?

I definitely have moments when I question the selection of content by curators or archivists we work with, but the work we receive in our role as fee-for-service digitization provider is coming from a particular context, where I don’t necessarily have the depth of understanding that the curator might have about what the history or value of that tape might be. Additionally, one of the really exciting aspects of analog video preservation is that many times the content for selection is based on tape labeling and how consistent or well-recorded metadata was in the original production. For example, BAVC received a Hi-8 video documentation of water freezing from the science museum in San Francisco for transfer. There was some challenges in terms of patience as a technician to have one-to-one supervision in transferring, but I can definitely see the value of what they are doing in preserving a tape like that — it was the opening of a major exhibition and Hi-8 is a volatile format. I think it will get easier and less expensive as tools are developed and people actively work on making the digitization activities we pursue streamlined. It helps that as a field we’re moving into the digital world, where we can make code and scripts work for us to make tasks less expensive and time-consuming.

Any predictions about the future of your field?

For analog video digitization, the recommended preservation format is digital; and with the fate of Kodak, I think the future is that a lot of moving image archivists are going to have to add digital preservation skills and tools to their bag of tricks. Digital preservation and archives is an exciting field to move into, I think, it’s just important to not be intimidated, dive in and try out sample files. I think the digital world gives our community a great opportunity in thinking about new ways of approaching what’s being preserved.

~Leanne Mobley

Profile of a Film Archivist: David Francis

I recently had the pleasure of conducting an email interview with British film archivist, David Francis. Over the course of his prolific career, Mr. Francis has served as the Curator of the UK’s National Television and Film Archive (a division of the British Film Institute) as well as the Chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division at the Library of Congress, in addition to other positions. I asked David to comment on his background and these experiences in order to paint a picture of the field over time.

Background

Francis was introduced to the world of film early in life. As his parents were members of a 35mm Film Society, the family attended film viewings regularly. This interest was later renewed through programming work for the Film Society at the London School of Economics, where he eventually received a BSc in Economics with a specialization in International Relations. In 1959, he began working as the Television Acquisitions Officer at the National Television and Film Archive, where he developed a television collection; a type of collection that had not existed in film archives until that point. He eventually worked his way up to the Curator position in 1974 where he remained until 1989, working on projects such as the J. Paul Getty, Jnr. Conservation Centre and the Museum of the Moving Image in London. In 1990, he left the UK to accept a contract at the Library of Congress. This turned into a more permanent position as became Chief not long after this contract ended. Francis stayed with the LoC until 2001.

Shot of the (former) Museum of the Moving Image in London.
Shot of the (former) Museum of the Moving Image in London.

Advocating for Moving Image Preservation

I asked David to comment on some his experiences advocating for moving image preservation. While at the British National Film Archive, he established the 24 Year Nitrate Preservation Scheme which allowed the Archive to duplicate approximately five million feet of nitrate film every year through government funding. He also organized a FIAF Symposium entitled “Cinema 1900-1906.”

“Up till that time (1978), film archives had been mainly interested in collecting the classic European silent and sound films. They were not interested in their national cinema…or in cinema before the coming of the first feature films. I had, however, always been interested in the relationship between the screen experience before 1895 and its influence on the first 20 years of the cinema’s creative development. We had acquired many titles from the first decade of cinema but could not make many of them available because we did not have the resources. I asked my archival colleagues around the world to send me all the films they had from the period at the Archive’s expense. I would then make two duplicate negative and two positive copies in our laboratory and send the original, one safety negative and a positive back to the archives and keep the others in our collection. In the end we assembled over 600 titles and screened them to a small group of international scholars. They then chose the titles they thought most interesting and these were screened at the Symposium. I think it would not be unreasonable to say that this Symposium paved the way for the study of early cinema.”

At the Library of Congress, Francis successfully implemented new legislation for the National Film Registry, which required the Librarian of Congress to conduct a “Study on the Current State of Film Preservation.” However, his attempts to do the same for television did not come to fruition.

“Congress indicated very clearly that as far as they were concerned film and television were not separate entities and they would not be prepared to fund a National Television Registry. Actually the film and television industries, although intertwined, are jealous of each other and would never have agreed to collaborate on a joint film and television programme.”

Comparing and Contrasting the BFI and MBRS

Having worked in both British and U.S. archives, Francis holds a unique perspective in the field. When I asked him to compare and contrast these experiences, he explained that while the two archives were similar in size, they remained different in other ways, particularly regarding funding.

“The British Film Institute was a QUANGO—a quasi autonomous non-governmental organization. It received funds from the government through the Ministry of the Arts but was not directly accountable for the way in which the funds were used. The Library of Congress is funded directly by Congress and considered by Congress as its library. However unlike most other archives in the United States the Library received some governmental funding although it had to also raise private funds if it was to meet its responsibilities. The National Film Archive section of the British Film Institute relied on private donations to build its film collections. The National Film Archive section of the BFI relied on private donations to build its film collections. There is no Statutory deposit for films in the UK. The Library builds its current collections through copyright deposits but relies on donations to fill gaps. The National Film Archive was a relatively un-bureaucratic organization and as Curator I was given a lot of freedom to achieve the Archive’s goals. I appointed all my own staff and managed all our budgets. The Library of Congress was very bureaucratic with checks and balances at every level. One had to compete for funding and staff with other Divisions.”

Changes Over Time

Beginning his career in 1959, Francis has experienced many of the great changes in the field. One he notes specifically is the improving relationship with film producers and distributors.

“In the 1960s one had to bribe producers and distributors to donate films. We organized a slap up party at Christmas and only invited staff from companies that participated. We invited the vault managers as well as the managing director because sometimes although we were refused donations officially, we received material unofficially from the vault manager. Another more dubious method of acquiring film was to bribe the driver of the Celluloid Products van who came to collect junk nitrate film for its silver value, to let us go through the films he already had on his van and substitute films of an equal or greater silver value. Even today, producers and distributors are still wary of film archives because they are concerned that they might screen copyrighted films without written permission. However they see the advantage of helping an organization that will store little used materials in ideal conditions free of charge.”

He also mentions the changing role and intentions of the film archive itself.

“When I started at the National Film Archive, the role of an archive was to collect films made by the classic European directors not to concentrate, as today, on the films made in one’s own country. Also scant attention was given to the films made in the first two decades of cinema history, short films, documentary subjects, newsreels or amateur film. These categories are now recognized as just as important as the feature film and, in fact, more important because they will not survive without the help of archives.”

Future Implications for Moving Image Archives

To overcome the challenges of digitization,

“Archives must be more like museums. Archives still control important information although even this position is threatened as more and more 20th century productions are digitized. The screening of a unique restored print in the archive cinema must be an experience to treasure and look forward to. I personally still feel that archives should use digital media to make films available widely, as long as it is still possible to see celluloid copies of the same titles projected in archive cinemas or other approved venues. The digital experience often appears to be technically superior but it is a different experience from watching a film in a darkened auditorium together.”

Furthermore, he voices his concern about the future of celluloid.

“Archives don’t have access to changing technology. When they preserve a film on celluloid they know they can store it in a controlled environment and it will retain its quality and accessibility. It will always be possible to build film projectors because they are mechanical not electronic. A digital master might need to be refreshed every five or so years and archives may not have access to the funds or equipment to do this on a regular basis. If they miss one refreshment stage, the digital master may become inaccessible. A lot of people will argue against this view and we will not know who was correct until we reach the 100 year mark but I believe archives must be conservative and never put the future of the moving image heritage at risk.”

My final question to David asked his opinion of the skills today’s archivists should possess.

“Archivists today have to be politicians, fund raisers and film historians who have the stage presence to make their knowledge exciting to the general public. Even although they must ensure that an archive is supported financially, policy must be based on what they believe should be done not on what others want them to do. Archives should only be big enough to achieve what can reasonably be done. An Archive can be too large as well as too small. If it is too large the head of the archive may not be able to devote enough time to determining policy, explaining it to staff and encouraging them to be part of the archive team.”

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 ~Susan Bogner

“The Fieldworker Is The First Archivist”: An Interview With Guha Shankar Of The American Folklife Center At The Library Of Congress

Guha Shankar is a Folklife Specialist at the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress (LC). Dr. Shankar sums up his career in this field as combining his “creative and political inclinations — documentary productions accomplished in a collaborative fashion with scholars and community members from under-represented and marginal communities so as to represent their cultural practices to a wider audience, and also and crucially, help preserve a permanent archival record of cultural forms under stress from dominant forces.” Dr. Shankar received his B.A. in Radio, Television, and Film and Political Science in 1982 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Texas-Austin in 2003, specializing in Folklore and Public Culture.  Past professional experience includes almost a decade as a Media Production Specialist and Film Editor at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife Programs in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, Dr. Shankar holds a wide range of responsibilities at the Library of Congress, explaining that, “our (AFC’s) work as public folklorists is intertwined with the LC’s mission to provide our patrons with access to the records of the nation’s artistic, intellectual and cultural legacy in perpetuity. Following on from that, the mission of the Center is to promote and preserve the nation and the world’s documentation of folk traditions.”

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Dr. Shankar outlined several key endeavors of the AFC with regards to this mission:

  • The preservation of audio-visual and other documentary materials of traditional cultural forms (song, dance, speech, etc.)
  • Providing access to these materials to both the broader public, and specifically to communities of origin
  • Providing technical training in documentary and oral history production and archival principles via workshops and field schools
  • Conducting in-house and collaborative documentary projects on a wide range of topics regarding cultural heritage, politics, and history

In his position at the AFC, Dr. Shankar works on a number of training initiatives, such as AFC’s long-standing Field Schools for Cultural Documentation for university students and community scholars. In the last few years, the field school model has been applied to the Cultural Documentation for Indigenous Communities, in which Dr. Shankar and his colleagues work with distinct cultural groups such as the Maasai of Kenya and the Rastafari and Maroons of Jamaica. By collaborating with groups and individuals who wish to acquire knowledge of and skills in the methods and technologies necessary to document and preserve elements of their culture that are meaningful to them, Dr. Shankar hopes to level the playing field with regard to the issue of representation. The problem of representation is a long-standing issue in ethnographic work, the central tension being the extent to which the perspective of the fieldworker or academic researcher supersedes the voice(s) and views of other cultures and communities, and Dr. Shankar discusses this issue in a recent article for the International Journal of Intangible Cultural Heritage. However, the sustainability of these projects is a continuing challenge for Dr. Shankar and his colleagues. It was not so very long ago that audio cassette machines were the primary device used in fieldwork; to some extent video cassettes were also part of an individual fieldworker’s toolkit.  Now, however, the preservation and security of audiovisual cultural heritage materials has become exponentially more complicated with the advent of portable, readily available digital audio and moving image tools, which have replaced analog recorders virtually overnight. The digital revolution has resulted in a marked shift in the use of recording technologies in the AFC’s training programs  but also initiated a more fundamental re-thinking of the challenges of long-term archival storage of the materials.   Dr. Shankar said in his interview with me, with tongue in cheek, that “in the past, ‘archive’ could be a shoebox, so long as you numbered your cassette tapes.”  So, what is to be done with the born-digital sound and moving image works that is now being created by community-based fieldworkers?  They have to have IT storage and a robust asset management program in place to keep these items accessible. Even with the advantages of many people being able to record video and audio on smartphones, for instance, Dr. Shankar makes management and sustainability a focus of the training programs. “How are you going to make these stories accessible?” He says. “What is your plan for long -term storage?”  Media archivists have to alert community-led documentation projects to the many unanticipated, technological challenges they will face.  As Dr. Shankar notes, “the fieldworker is the first archivist – and also is going to have to be the IT manager in some way”. Currently Dr. Shankar’s efforts are focused on a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (which is slated to open to the public in 2015). The Civil Rights History Project is both a survey of existing oral histories and repositories and a venture seeking to record new interviews with Movement participants.  More information can be found here.

“Folklife is an integral part of all American lives and an essential part of the National Library. The story of America is reflected in the cultural productions of ordinary people who live everyday lives, from cooking and eating meals, to the activities of work and play, to religious observances and seasonal celebration.” –The American Folklife Center

~Josephine McRobbie