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

A Day In the Life: DoDA 2012

In anticipation of the second annual Day of Digital Archives (DoDA) coming up on Friday October 12, 2012, we present a glimpse into the world of the digital film archive at Indiana University.

Day of Digital Archives

DoDA was first established by Gretchen Gueguen as a way to connect archivists, digital humanists, programmers, and anybody else using or managing a digital archive. It is an online platform to raise awareness and spread knowledge about digital archives. To be more specific, who are the users of digital archives? Who manages them? What other projects are happening in the vast domain of digital collections? What can we learn about our own work by catching a glimpse of what other professionals in the field are doing? This being the second year of DoDA, the coming years will hopefully provide many connections and insights to other projects happening around the world. Past contributors have shared posts about data management, digital forensics, university archives, natural disasters and the video collections at the Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of San Francisco Public Library, just to mention a few.

Digitized Films and Loans

Chuckylou gets dolled up with the kids

Many of the contributors for DoDA 2011 deal primarily with born-digital objects, but for many institutions, and we at the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive are no exception, that is not requisite. Our online archive of digitized films were filmed between 1949-1978. These films were digitized over the course of the last 10 years by Scene Savers in Covington, KY. The Bradley Collection was the first collection to be digitized, however some of the items that are digitized cannot be streamed online due to copyright issues. The educational films that are online were all digitized in the past four years. Due to the fact that IU made these films and owns the copyright for them, we are able to stream them to the public. Issues of copyright are ever apparent with digital libraries given many materials people want access to are not yet in the public domain. Currently in the U.S., any work published before January 1, 1923 is considered to be in the public domain.

We receive many requests on an almost daily basis for digitized copies of particular films in our collection. Oftentimes requests come from libraries, universities and researchers. After licensing and copyright issues have been cleared, we are able to send away for a digital copy, which is then loaned to the patron. In the future we will hopefully be able to digitize a large portion of our collection in-house and provide our own digital copies for specific requests.

Currently, for titles already in our collection, item information may be retrieved from IUCAT. Because the majority of our holdings have yet to be digitized, metadata must be added to the catalog in order to locate an item. For collections that we have recently acquired, for example,the Oregon Collection, we are still processing, bar coding and adding metadata to each canister simultaneously as it is inserted into IUCAT. This is a time consuming but essential step in the process of digitizing these films down the road. Additionally, the Oregon Collection is still on the burner and we are continuing to plow through the remaining palettes at  a steady clip.

Palettes containing the Oregon Collection (most of these are now emptied and cleared away).

In managing this archival collection, our goal is to preserve what we have through a process of collecting, organizing and ultimately making public our holdings. By allowing for easier access we ensure that these items are usable, not simply left to collect cyber dust in an electronic box with no key.

Digital Archive Considerations

When considering a digital library, it is important to note the difference between a website and a digital library or archive. According to How To Build a Digital Library by Ian Witten, a digital library is defined as “a focused collection of digital objects, including text, video, and audio, along with methods for access and retrieval, and for selection, organization, and maintenance of the collection.” Digital archivists must consider how they will collect, preserve and dispense or allow access to their materials. In contrast to a website, which might have little or no organizational structure, a digital library or archive must meet the needs of its users and allow them to find materials of their choosing. By including extensive metadata, users are able to browse and search tags or other components to find a specific item. Compared to the typical library where a user might simply browse the shelves until the right book jumps out at them, how do users find materials in digital collections? Are they able to browse and search? What tools must be put into place to allow for browsing and then, once an item is selected what is the protocol for accessing and viewing an item?

There are many small things that must be taken into consideration when working with a digital collection and this is just a small slice of the pie. We will continue to provide quality materials and easily accessible finding aids as our online collection grows over the coming years. Have a great DoDA wherever you are!

~Asia Harman

Educational Films and Film Societies

When we speak of educational films, what exactly do we mean? For many people, memories of high school science classes come to mind. Or people recall the amusingly awkward acting, dated music and fashion, and cheap production value of instructional films.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fssAHO0_mvE

Above: BBC parody on science films called “Look Around You” tackles sulphur.

However, the recently acquired Oregon Collection challenges and broadens our understanding of what constitutes an educational film and how their meanings change when placed in various contexts and settings.

Most people today tend to separate educational films from other kinds of film production, notably fiction features and documentaries. Yet, there is a semi-hidden history of film societies placing educational films as a major part of their programming. The most famous example was the New York-based film society, Cinema 16 (which operated from 1947-1963). Amos and Marcia Vogel founded Cinema 16 with the hopes of exploring and screening alternative types of cinema, ranging from documentaries to educational films to experimental films. Amos Vogel’s programming sensibility, by juxtaposing many different types of films, showed how thin the line was between documentary and educational films (ethnographic films) or the avant-garde and educational films (the work of Jean Painleve comes to mind). Also, the Vogels hoped that bringing these seemingly disparate groups of films into a single program would transform the way their audience saw the art of cinema. One could, they believed, approach educational films from an aesthetic perspective, as well as approach narrative fiction cinema from an educational perspective.

Original program guide for a Cinema 16 screening (click picture for a short essay on non-fiction film by Vogel)

Many of the films in the Oregon collection would have been perfect for a program at Cinema 16. A majority of the films in the Oregon collection were produced after Cinema 16’s demise, but the collection as a whole suggests a rich hidden history of the life of educational films outside of the traditional classroom setting.

A documentary on Amos Vogel’s life and work:

Film as a Subversive Art from Paul Cronin on Vimeo.

~Sean Smalley