Interview an Archivist: A Conversation with Anne Gant

By Alison Summer-Ramirez

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

Anne Gant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conversation with Nico de Klerk

 

Nico de Klerk
Nico de Klerk

A film historian, curator and researcher, Nico de Klerk’s professional interests lie outside the typical film canon. During his student years, he “roamed a bit initially” before receiving an English degree at the Leiden University and later obtaining his Master of Arts in Discourse Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. His interest in film came much later, and “it came with a  vengeance,” he notes.  Building up his expertise with volunteer stints at Amsterdam art houses and Skrien magazine, he eventually settled at what was then called Nederlands Filmmuseum (now EYE): “Because of the  museum’s programming, I developed an interest in early cinema, nonfiction in particular – that is what made me want to work there,” he says.

His role as the institute’s first Collection Researcher was in keeping with the museum archives’ mission at the time: “the philosophy was that the archive’s perceived weakness, i.e. its lack of canonical and other titles that show up in every top 100, could be transformed into its strength.” He notes the works of programmers Eric de Kuyper and Peter Delpeut, who screened series of unknown materials from such silent film-era directors as Yevgeni Bauer, Franz Hofer, Alfred Machin and Leonce Perret, as well as expedition films of the 1920s and color-film tests of the 1910s. “As an archive, I think, we were one of the first in trying to put ‘peripheral’ topics center stage and open it to outside expertise and input,” he says.

amsterdam workshop 94
Proceedings of the 1994 Amsterdam Workshop on early nonfiction.

amsterdam workshop 95
Proceedings of the 1995 Amsterdam Workshop on color in silent film.

Such measures included the creation of the Amsterdam 
Workshops, in which groups of 50 to 60 international archivists and scholars were invited to participate in discussions of materials and topics de Klerk researched— such as early nonfiction, colonial cinema, the program format, and advertising film. de Klerk would then create unique programs for the sessions. “That’s when I discovered the power and the effects of programming,” he says. The workshops were also intended to give participants an impetus to incorporate their experiences into their own professional lives.

de Klerk’s passion for the peripheral topics of cinema history extends to his interest in orphan films, which he attributes to his work with the EYE. Attending the first Orphan Film Symposium in 1999, de Klerk was unaware of the existing community of like-minded professionals with this interest. “You might say I worked on orphan films before I even knew the term and what it meant…that first symposium was a homecoming…what touched me was the devotion people displayed to those largely forgotten and unknown materials, the knowledge people had acquired about the stuff they showed and introduced, and – most of all – the democratic atmosphere, in that it didn’t matter whether you worked at Yale or UCLA or had a non-cinema day job and did your research in your spare time.”

de Klerk's work on J.C. Lamster, an early filmmaker in the Dutch East Indies, was published in 2010.
de Klerk’s work on J.C. Lamster, an early filmmaker in the Dutch East Indies, was published in 2010.

With such a vested interest in the diversity of both archival holdings and the field itself, de Klerk argues that the greatest challenge facing the preservation community is conformity in programming – that the types of films featured in archival screenings are those that can be viewed at home. Such retrospectives are “predominantly based on a few principles – personality, nationality, genre…insofar these institutes have their own collections, only a fraction of their holdings are being presented.” de Klerk argues that the types of materials that belong to “the slow lane of film history” have been relegated to online exhibitions and presentations, despite the fact that many institutions may lack the resources for a proper online presence; further, these films were originally seen in a theatrical context in much the same way that some of the more retrospective-ready titles were. “I see no reason to relegate these materials to a mere digital life, certainly not when they are presented without any relevant form of contextualization,” he says. “If your mission is to present the heritage you are responsible for, it is imperative to find ways to meaningfully and imaginatively present all your holdings.”

The 2013 Orphans Midwest Film Symposium will be hosted at Indiana University Bloomington this week. For more information, including a full calendar of events, visit the Indiana University Cinema website.

~Kaitlin Conner

 

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