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

Access is the First Step to Preservation: An Interview with Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks

banner2Skip Elsheimer’s interest in film and video dates back to his childhood. As a young man he owned a 16mm projector but could never get it to work. He shot film for school projects but was dissatisfied with the time it took to view his results. “No immediate gratification squashed my motivation” he said in a  February 19, 2013 interview. He had always been a collector of such ubiquitous materials as comic books, coins, stamps, and records. However, in college at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC in the 1990s, his interest in collecting reached a more massive scale, both space- and numbers-wise. It happened when he bought six palettes of audio and video equipment at a University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) auction that included U-Matic video decks, an open-reel tape machine, and a working 16mm projector. He was not a stranger to oversized collections at this stage in his life as he had already gotten into collecting large office machinery (copy machines and other discarded tools), but prior to this purchase, film had not been a huge part of his life.

One of the film rooms at the A/V Geeks archive, complete with a former boarder's rose mural.
One of the film rooms at the A/V Geeks archive, complete with a former boarder’s rose mural.

A trip to a flea market netted him a couple of 16mm educational film prints but also, and more importantly, a tip from the seller about an auction that featured quite a few more films. Despite not being able to attend the auction — he had to go to work —  he asked his roommates to go in his place. “I’ll pay you back” he said, and, upon returning home, was greeted by a pile of 500 educational films with subjects ranging from drinking and drugs to driver’s ed and Duck and Cover from the UNCG  Department of Human Resources. It cost him $50.

“Something clicked that these were awesome,” says Elsheimer, and his quest to build the massive 24,000+ educational film collection of A/V Geeks began. “Schools were beginning to make room for the computer lab and dumping films for space” he said, and recounts buying up huge lots of film from educational and other institutional entities all over North Carolina. Soon enough he had acquired most of North Carolina’s otherwise-potentially-doomed-for-the-dumpster collections. As college roommates started getting married, going to grad school, and otherwise moving out of their shared house, Elsheimer realized that if he was going to keep the thousands of films he had amassed, it was time to find them a home. He did, in a former boarding house in Raleigh, NC, where the archive lives to this day.

IMG_2991“I got [the films] for performance in the first place, to show behind bands,” says Elsheimer, noting that his collection was born with the idea that these films – however dated, faded, or forgotten – were still of interest, despite being orphaned by their previous owners. But their interest, he noted, extended beyond a moving psychedelic backdrop for music. Elsheimer started inviting friends over on Sundays for beer and film viewing, a tradition that remains to this day. “I enjoy [watching] them and see enjoyment in others when the watch them,” he said. Prior to his quest to collect and rescue film he had created zines and worked with a record label, two enterprises whose reason for being are to get content to the widest variety of people. Thus, A/V Geeks was born, a film archive based on the idea that, as Elsheimer says, “access is the first step to preservation.”

A view of the A/V Geeks' Flashscan film scanner at work.
A view of the A/V Geeks’ Flashscan film scanner at work.

In order to fulfill the goal of making his 24,000 educational films as accessible as possible, Elsheimer has spent almost two decades becoming a recognized force for reformatting in the world of media preservation. Much of the reason these films are not accessible is because many never made it to consumer friendly formats like VHS, and even if they did, their material may be considered too irrelevant for modern formats. Reformatting equipment is expensive and experience is, too. “I learned the hard way,” said Elsheimer, referring to the fact that his knowledge of the field has put him in demand as a consultant for other archives who are seeking help with their digitization projects. But one of the goals of the work of A/V Geeks is to get as much public domain material as possible on popular media delivery websites like YouTube, The Internet Archive, and Vimeo, to ensure the most amount of views by the widest audience. In 2012 Elsheimer initiated an IndieGoGo campaign to digitize 100 miles of public domain film. He enticed donators with a list of films that he not only thought they would be interested in, but that he was also interested in. “Instead of me raising money to pay the bills I can raise money to digitize what I want to digitize,” he said. As of February 24, 2013, the campaign has raised over $20,000.

IMG_2998A/V Geeks is not only a giant, privately owned educational film archive but also a vendor of digitization services. They offer 8mm, Super8, 16mm, and 35mm reformatting services, as well as a variety of professional and consumer level video formats, including VHS, SVHS, Betamax, Umatic, and 1″ open reel. A/V Geeks also offers digital file reformatting, DVD duplication, and video transcoding to digital media. Elsheimer’s biggest client is the Internet Archive, particularly Geoff Alexander of the Academic Film Archive of North America and Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archives. Universities  – his alma matter North Carolina State University and neighboring Durham’s Duke University, among others – have hired A/V Geeks for larger scale reformatting services. While higher-profile vendor activity nets more money than consumer services like home movie digitization, Elsheimer feels its just as important as such activity “imparts ideas about archiving to individuals.” Outside of digitization services Elsheimer puts this belief to practice as the president of the Center for Home Movies.

To further their mission of access, Elsheimer takes treasures from the A/V Geeks archive on the proverbial road. He regularly shows films at Kings Barcade in Raleigh, typically a rock venue, in addition to more (or less) traditional cinema environments. He also packages some of the public domain films into fun, thematic DVD sets, monetizing the content and also giving him something to sell at merchandise tables while touring and on his website. “I think the most important component of preservation is access” he says. “If you aren’t actually doing something to give access to people to make it important or introduce it to the world then you’re not doing preservation in the grand sense. It’s great keeping the original around … but there are ways now to share that information without impacting the original object by putting them online and making them available to someone even in another part of the world. That stuff is really important.” He continues “I could pay to have something preserved and it could sit on a shelf and no one would know, so what’s the point? Spend the time, energy, and money, and cheerlead it.”

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~ Jason Evans Groth

 

20th Century Treasure Hunt: An Adventure With Jacques Cousteau

Screen shot of Cousteau looking at a found object.

In the early 1970s, Jacques Cousteau and his team made a series of programs entitled The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Each episode takes a closer look at Cousteau’s favorite subject: the ocean. The Indiana University Libraries Film Archive received ten of these titles as part of the Oregon Collection including Those Incredible Diving Machines, The Water Planet, Coral Jungle, and The Water Planet. Cousteau was well known as a leading expert in oceanic life, and his many television programs all take a closer look at some form of ocean life or adventure. He began making films in 1942 and continued, almost non-stop,  until his death in the mid 90s. His first film was shot with his own 35mm Kinamo Zeiss camera that he put into a waterproof brass box with external cables to control the focus and aperture. In 1943, with the help of engineer Emile Gagnan, Cousteau developed the aqua-lung, one of the first incarnations of modern scuba diving equipment. This apparatus, which advanced technologically over the years, enabled Cousteau to breathe underwater while filming. Cousteau went on to create many other inventions, all of which were based on a passion for underwater filmmaking.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2E34QrDzAg

A closer look at the episode Sunken Treasure with Jacques Cousteau reveals an inside look at a 20th century treasure hunt. Note the difference in time between the full episode and our classroom version, which was catered to fit a specific lesson plan: 50 minutes compared to 20.  Rod Serling narrates the treasure hunt for silver and gold worth over one million dollars believed to be aboard the The Lady of the Conception, a ship from the Spanish Armada fleet which sank after crashing into a coral reef in 1641. Cousteau and his crew, while aboard his ship, Calypso, use maps to navigate the choppy seas of the

Placing markers next to artifacts.

Caribbean to the site of the wreckage. Scuba divers are seen swimming down to the sea floor and raking through sand and coral debris. In time, pieces of the rigging are found along with other items from the ship. Using a 200 horsepower air compressor to suck up and then disperse sand, silt and debris, the crew can get to pieces of the wreckage more easily. When Serling describes the machinery as “so powerful it can suck up a man’s arm. The airlift could literally suck out a man’s blood through his skin,” he sounds like he is back in time, narrating The Twilight Zone. In total, 300 tons of coral debris were sifted through to find cannon balls, a ceramic jug completely in tact with the stopper still in it along with a syringe, a metal plate, tin and pewter plates, soup bones, cups and bowls stacked together. Additionally, cups made of Chinese porcelain, which had been transported to Spanish ships via the Philippines, were found along with the remains of a hand guard to a sword. The crew also discovered that, when the ship crashed, the cannons were loaded and ready to fire.

Treasure map screen shot.

This film gives a great insight into what life was like at sea for these men: afternoon lunches in the hot sun with plenty of wine, Cousteau with the youthful energy of a kid on Christmas morning, and the crew clad in red caps, breaking up huge pieces of coral with sledgehammers. Mostly portrayed was the sense of camaraderie these men shared in their hunt for treasure. It can easily be seen how Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a tip of the hat to one of his heroes, Jacques Cousteau. At the end of the episode, we discover that the ship is in fact not La Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (which actually sank close to the Philippines) and carried no silver or gold. Although we do not get a glimpse of the Jaguar Shark, Cousteau’s films leave us with a closer look into his love of the ocean and his deep passion for wanting to share its beauty and mysteries to the world through film.

~Asia Harman

Presenting … Handmade Materials for Projection (1956)

“This is like writing with light!” exclaims a young teacher in the 1956 instructional film Handmade Materials for Projection. What activity is she engaging in that was so exciting as to inspire her to reach for such an evocative metaphor? Well, if you chose scratching on a piece of carbon paper on an overhead projector for a lesson in how-to-write a business letter then you’d be right.

“This is like writing with light!”

That this rather mundane activity could prompt an educator to such poetic musings might be attributed to the often over-blown rhetoric found in educational films in the 1950s. However, I submit that moments such as these, which might seem corny to us now, are actually rather revealing insights into the ways that teachers and students thought about and experienced educational films. Or, to be more accurate, how the filmmakers imagined teachers and students experienced educational films. Examining these now out-of-date classroom films gives us an insight into how producers and educators predicted that the films would be viewed and utilized. As such, this affords us a chance to study earlier cultural assumptions about the pedagogical role of media, which, ideally opens up a discussion of the forces guiding our current digital mediation and technologization of education.

The film represents itself being screened in the classroom.

For a film that rather programmatically trained educators in how to inexpensively make their own slides and transparencies for projection in the classroom, the film is filled with these moments of wonder, even if they are occasionally tempered by the rational voice of the teacher. In addition to the example above, another instructor demonstrates a technique that she calls the dry dusting method. This tool allows her to accurately, and almost magically, trace shapes into carbon paper in front of her students. The filmed presentation at the 12:14 mark in the video does indeed have more than just a little of the fantastic about it. The drawing seems to appear before our eyes. As she states, her drawing on the overhead projector is more than just a representation of the object she is lecturing on. Instead, it’s “a living, meaningful diagram which developed with my lecture … as a way of capturing and holding the attention of my audience.”

“…A living, meaningful diagram…”

This quote gets at why teachers used, and continue to use, mass media in the classroom, an impulse that is essential to the creation of the films that are at the core of the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive. First, media, even something as unremarkable as an overhead projection, brings the lesson to life. Second, it’s not a frivolous animation but one that’s intimately yoked to the educational goal of the class. Third, and this is no small shakes here, the use of media in the classroom allows a teacher to keep the students focused on what she is saying. Classroom media was used to make a lecture exciting, had to have a clear pedagogical mission, and was deployed to regulate student behavior. (No students are actually seen in this film; the film presents no proof that these techniques actually interest schoolchildren which points to one of the great unknowns in educational film: what did the students sitting in the classroom actually think of these mediated instructions).

As this film and others like it such as Photographic Slides for Instruction (1956) and How to Make Homemade Lantern Slides (1947), both of which are embedded at the end of this post, suggest educational films were not just made for students, but also for teachers to instruct them in how to incorporate the then new media into their classroom. Further, educational films were part of a much larger infrastructure in media available for the classroom including filmstrips, records, slides, and overhead projectors – and eventually cassette tapes, videotape, and now Power Point. This is an important point to realize when watching old educational films. They rarely stood alone and were often part of a larger educational effort that might have included textbooks, suggested lesson plans, slides, etc. So while we will be mainly posting videos digitized from old educational films, please keep in mind that there was a larger media ecosystem in the classroom that these films are only one example of.

The film shows techniques for depicting 3-D objects with two-dimensional media.

In fact, the educational author of this film, Harvey R. Frye, published a very similar article in the August 1957 issue of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers called “Slide-Projection Materials on Minimum Budgets.” In comparing the article and the film, the advantages in each medium for teaching becomes quickly apparent: each has more or less the same information, but the journal article allowed a teacher to easily go back over the techniques of making slides while the film includes dramatized examples of teachers in awe at the process.

In fact, what each medium allowed a teacher to do was at the core of Frye’s efforts in training educators to use media for pedagogical purposes. As he and his co-author Ed Minor assert in the introduction to their 1970 book, Techniques for Producing Visual Instructional Media, having a sense of the specificity of each medium was the key to knowing how to utilize mass media in the classroom. They state unequivocally that, “materials should be prepared only when they will do the job of communicating better and quicker than any other method of communication available”.

“…Communicating better and quicker than any other method of communication…”

In the off chance that anyone reading this posting knew Harvey Frye or other filmmakers at the IU Audio-Visual Center please contact us. We are in the process of researching the production and exhibition of these films and any help would be much appreciated.

~ Andy Uhrich