IULFA and FIAF

On November 20th, 2011, the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) was admitted into the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). To date, only 17 film archives in the United States are FIAF members. This blog post will discuss what FIAF is, a brief history of FIAF, and IULFA’s member status is a big deal.

FIAF was founded in Paris in 1938. Initially there were only 4 members. Though we might think of film preservation and archives as a more recent phenomenon, there was already a concern among cineastes, curators/programmers, filmmakers, and critics over the life of film. These sentiments had already existed in the 1920s. The Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art (NY) took an interest in film, adding them to their collection while

The exterior of the Cinémathèque Française

cinema was still a young medium. The original four members that banded together in 1938 included the Museum of Modern Art, the Cinémathèque Française, the British Film
 Institute, and the Reichsfilmarchiv in Berlin (however, this archive was ransacked by Soviet troops in 1945). Since its conception in 1938, the organization has expanded its membership to archives in over 75 countries.

FIAF stated aims are:

  • to uphold a code of ethics for film preservation and practical standards for all areas of film archive work
  • to promote the creation of moving image archives in countries which lack them
  • to seek the improvement of the legal context within which film archives carry out their work
  • to promote film culture and facilitate historical research on both a national and international level
  • to foster training and expertise in preservation and other archive techniques
  • to ensure the permanent availability of material from the collections for study and research by the wider community
  • to encourage the collection and preservation of documents and materials relating to the cinema
  • to develop cooperation between members and “to ensure the international availability of films and documents”.

Simply having a collection is not enough for inclusion into FIAF. In addition to collections, archives should have some kind of long-term and developed plan for preservation. This would include proper storage facilities. IULFA’s collections reside in the Auxiliary Library Facility. Because we have our collections in an environment that will prolong film’s life for 250 years we have one of the best archival storage facilities among FIAF members.

FIAF also encourages greater interaction and cooperation within the archival world. They are engaged in issues of film preservation and restoration, digitization, and access. Every year FIAF organizes the Annual Congress where members come to formally discuss business and participate in workshops. IULFA archivist Rachael Stoeltje represented IU at the Annual Congress in Beijing this past spring.  FIAF also publishes the Journal of Film Preservation.

IULFA is honored to be part of such an historically important organization. We are excited to be participants in the global conversation on the role  of film archives and preservation. FIAF membership will also lead other archival institutions to our doorstep. Being a member means we can develop relationships with other film archives and expose people to our collections and state-of-the-art facility.

~Sean Smalley

The Freezer Project: Film Decay and Media Collections

Over the months of July and August 2012, Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) staff began (with only a small amount of foot-dragging!) the ominously-named Freezer Project. For a number of weeks, we’ve been leaving our comfortable desks at 9am each day, in teams of two, to work on inventorying the hundreds of deteriorating 16mm and 35mm films that have been quarantined from the “healthy” films in a large walk-in freezer at the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF). These films run the gamut in content and time period, but it is significant that certain items, such as 1950s regional football games, ethnographic anthropological research in 1970s South Africa, and film and television outtakes and production elements, are unique items that may only exist at the IULFA. Thus, it is all the more important to regain greater physical and intellectual control over these items, so that they may be available for and findable by interested parties.

Indeed, a significant challenge in moving image preservation programs is the storage and care of decayed and deteriorating cellulose film. Cellulose film base, also known as triacetate film base, was introduced in the early

A can of 16mm film exhibiting warping, rust, and other signs of decay.

20th century as an alternative for the highly-flammable nitrate film base (it was thus given the alternate moniker “safety film”). The benefits of this material meant that by the 1950s, cellulose had phase out nitrate in the 35mm format, and would go on to be the most widely used film base, used in gauges ranging from 16mm (for which triacetate has been almost exclusively used since the gauge’s introduction in 1923) to 8mm and Super 8mm.

Archivists have found that this particular type of film base is especially susceptible to shrinking, warping, and brittleness, and at this deterioration process occurs, film becomes more and more difficult to play back, digitize, or even inspect. Due to the highly acidic odor that decayed cellulose film puts off, this particular variety of deterioration is widely known as “vinegar syndrome”. A report by Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology found that “freshly processed acetate base film can last for several centuries in cold storage.” But the author goes on to warn that “under adverse storage conditions … acetate base decay has been observed after only a few years.” And dealing with items that have lived under such conditions is certainly part of archival work.

The IUFLA, for instance, is home to one of the world’s largest academic film collections, housing over 55,000 items. Because all these films came to the IULFA from a variety of sources, some items are in better shape than others.  Oftentimes, collections were once stored in non-ideal facilities such as the attics or basements of owners, or non-climate controlled warehouses or storage facilities.

Because of this variety in previous storage conditions, all incoming films are checked for vinegar syndrome during accessioning. This is done with the use of A-D strips, small paper strips placed on the film reel which detect the acidity level in the film and demonstrate that level by changing color from dark blue (healthy) to green (decaying) to yellow (significantly decayed). Its a process reminiscent of a 1970s mood ring, something we retro-fetishists at the IULFA can certainly appreciate!

Staff member Asia Harman pulls decayed films from the IULFA’s walk-in freezer.

As mentioned previously, significantly decayed films are quarantined from the “healthy” items and kept in a walk-in freezer at ALF which is kept at a temperature below freezing, until funding is available for preservation reformatting. IULFA staff maintains the stability of the other films by keeping them in the optimal storage conditions of the vault at ALF, which is kept a consistent temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a stable relative humidity of 30 percent.

Since we began the Freezer Project, we’ve tackled the task of inventorying all of the films in the ALF freezer, bagging similar sizes together in order to create more space, and noting instances of duplicate copies. The process begins with taking films from the freezer (usually in disarray and not properly bagged for an additional level of climate stability) into the vault to slowly warm up to 50 degrees.

The IULFA’s Sean Smalley (left) and Andy Uhrich (right) inventory decayed films

After several hours in the vault, films can be brought into the warmer work area, where they are inspected for title, series, catalog number, barcode, and element (such as “A-roll” or “soundtrack”).  The amount of information on the can itself varies wildly – some cans contain all this information, while others are incomplete, or in a few instances, completely blank. Films are then bagged according to best practice guidelines (or set aside for disposal), and placed back in the freezer, where they will be easily accessible when it comes time to rehabilitate them. The Freezer Project is one of the less glamorous projects at the archives, as it involves handling rusty metal cans filled with foul-smelling acidic film, and wearing rubber gloves and butchers smocks in order to protect oneself from said rusty metal cans filled with foul-smelling acidic film! But this particular project is part of a larger goal of “unhiding collections”, as media collections consulting firm AV Preserve has put it. As they have said, “in order to unhide audiovisual collections they need to be transferred to a state where they can be described and accessed.”

IUFLA staff member Jason Evans Groth emerges from the freezer with films of various sizes.

Though the work is physically demanding and the number of films to inventory and bag was initially quite overwhelming, it’s a feeling of real accomplishment to know that this work will allow the public to find and view these films.

Read the National Film Preservation Foundation’s a PDF “Film Preservation Guide” for more information about film preservation practices and processes.

~Josephine McRobbie with Andy Uhrich

 

 

 

 

National Educational Television and the IU Libraries Film Archive

The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive (IULFA) contains more than 46,000 historic educational films, making it one of the most extensive collection of such items in existence. IU was one of the major university-based distributors of educational films from the 1930s to the 1990s, but unlike many of its contemporaries it maintained the majority of its collection, now preserved in the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF).

The collection spans much of the Twentieth Century, including a large of number of pre-World War II, career training, and U.S. Department of War films. A large chunk of the collection — more than 5,600 films — were produced by the National Educational Television (NET) network, the precursor to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

The National Educational Television logo from 1969-1970.

NET got its start in 1952 and functioned as an “exchange center” that collected the grassroots productions of local TV stations from across the country as sort of an aggregator for public programming. The programs were educational in nature, featuring children’s shows (Fignewton’s Newspaper and Sing Hi – Sing Lo) parenting advice (Children Growing), and artist spotlights (the Creative Person series) to name just a few.

 

 

Below are two episodes from the Creative Person series — one about animator Richard Williams and the other about Fred Rogers. Both of these titles are held in the IULFA collection.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4521253840921599093

Production values, intended audience, and popularity varied greatly from program to program, which led the Ford Foundation, who had invested over $130 million between 1952 and 1966, to begin to withdraw funding, sending NET looking for funding from the federal government. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created in 1967, which served to manage the content created by stations and, eventually, the creation of PBS.

NET was the original home of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street, which became staples for PBS. Stations like KQED in San Francisco and, WQED in Pittsburgh, and KETC in St. Louis were among the stations which provided the content for NET between 1952 and the early 1970s, when the NET distinction gave way to PBS.

The IU Libraries Film Archive not only holds prints of the completed programs but also a number of film elements that went into the production of them. By preserving the fully edited productions as well as the components which became the final product, these historic films — the ancestors of today’s public broadcasting system — stand a much better chance at surviving for several generations of researchers and the public interested in a glimpse at the roots of America’s television programming system.

~Jason Evans Groth

Oregon Collection Update

 In October of 2011, the IU Libraries Film Archive acquired 12,000 educational films from the Lane Education Service District in Eugene, Oregon. The collection consists primarily of educational films made for elementary through university level students that were produced between the 1920s and 1980s. Genres of the films include science, the arts, physical education, biographies, world history, and instructional films along with some feature films including, The Red Balloon (video below), City Lights, and Paper Moon. Some of the educational films include Guernica (video below), Food Chains in the Ocean, Rise of English Socialism and Bicycle Safety. There are multiple copies of many titles and some that have upwards of ten copies.

 In April the process of adding these films to the collection at the Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) began.  The process involves bar-coding each title, testing the films for vinegar syndrome with A-D strips, and then sending them to their final destination in the ALF vault where they are kept at a steady temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level of 30%. Over 95% of the films that have been tested are in great condition and with the climate controlled storage facilities their conditions will be stabilized for decades. The few films which have tested poorly are bagged in plastic and kept in a film freezer which maintains a constant temperature of -2 degrees Fahrenheit.  Presently over a third of the new collection has been tested and cataloged and will available through IUCAT after processing has been completed. IU Libraries Film Archive already houses a large variety of educational films and the new films will only add to the diversity of this immense collection.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQhvgo62l74&t=15s

The Red Balloon joins the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive

Guernica is now part of the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive collection

~Asia Harman

Preservation Update

The 10 month effort to move Indiana University’s 70,000+ film holdings to the climate-controlled Auxiliary Library Facility has been completed. The constant temperature and humidity of 50 degrees and 30% RH will extend the life of the films an additional 283 years. All of the films were tested for vinegar syndrome, inventoried and rehoused prior to the move.

ALF
Vaults of ALF II

All of the Indiana University Libraries’ Film Archive Collections were moved to the ALF.  These collections include the 48,000 items in the Libraries’ Educational collection, all of the Lilly Libraries’ film collections and the University Archives’ film collections. In addition, the Black Film Center Archive’s collections and the Kinsey Institute’s film collections were also moved to the climate-controlled, cold storage ALF environment.

Films
Archivists prepare films for ALF