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.