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

Katie Trainor of the Museum of Modern Art

Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Katie Trainor, film collections manager at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

Katie Trainor is the Film Collections Manager at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Since the founding of the museum in 1928, MoMA has placed great importance on representing and introducing “the only great art form peculiar to the twentieth century.” The first chairman of the Museum’s Film Library, David O. Selznick sent then curator of film, Iris Barry, to Hollywood to try and persuade industry leaders to donate prints. An innovative idea for the time, Hollywood soon responded- studios, actors and producers such as  Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century-Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Harold Lloyd, Walt Disney,  William S. Hart, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks donated prints to the infant archive. Barry would later travel through Europe and the Soviet Union collecting international films and making connections with many European filmmakers. In 1937, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the Museum with an award for “its significant work in collecting films . . . and for the first time making available to the public the means of studying the historical and aesthetic development of the motion picture as one of the major arts.”

Now, eighty-odd years later, the collection consists of 25,000 titles and “ranks as one of the world’s finest museum archives of international film art.” The archive represents every major artist of the silent era- as well as many of the innovators of sound technology.  Films by artist such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Paul Strand, along with animators and experimental filmmakers, expand the collection past feature films and enhance its already astounding cultural significance  The donation of films continue today with many of the industry’s best directors and producers, such as Clint Eastwood, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, and many others, donating their films. Due to the size and preservation needs of the Film Collection, the Museum opened The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in 1996. Located in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, the center offers a “flexible system or temperature- and humidity- controlled vaults, which can adapt as the collection increases and preservation techniques advance.”

The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, located in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, opened in 1996.
The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center, located in Hamlin, PA, opened in 1996.

Katie’s position as Film Collections Manager has her managing “the preservation pipeline, supervising the preservation Center in Hamlin PA, collaborating with other FIAF archives [International Federation of Film Archives, of which MoMA is a founding member] on preservation…” as well as managing non film related materials. After handling film at the Harvard Film Archive where she worked for eight years, Katie attended the Selznick School at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. She has since worked at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as a projectionist, at the Harvard Film Archive managing the Cinema and archives, at the Jacob Burns Center as Director of Operations, the IFC Center managing the theater of operations, and, presently, MoMA. Katie made it clear that she “was and still [is] an archival projectionist.” She credits the handling and the projecting of film at the Harvard Film Archive for her love of the artifact that is film and it is where her desire to “take care of it” was formed.

As a member of the museum culture, she is but one person in the Curatorial Department. In a large institution such as MoMA, inter-departmental collaboration is essential. The acquisition process in a museum archive is also different from other archives. Films are often sought out by a curator or member of the curatorial department, researched, and then pitched to the Curatorial Board where they discuss whether or not the film fits in to the current collection and/or the future direction the collection would like to go. If it is, the museum makes plans to acquire it. In an institution like MoMA, there is a mission statement to follow and an image to consistently project and, because of this, they may be more selective about the films they take and also about the films they prioritize for preservation.

When it comes to preservation, MoMA’s Film Archive currently does not digitize widely  They still preserve film to film and this is because of the museums interest in not only preserving the content of the film but also the art form of movie making itself. However this method of preservation can and will eventually need to be addressed by MoMA. As Katie acknowledged the “eminent demise of motion picture stock” is a major problem. MoMA will eventually have to address the idea of digital preservation, but as of right now they are “still very committed to photochemical preservation.”

My interview with Katie was very informative regarding how museums, specifically art museums, view film and the archive/preservation of that film. For them it is not only the content of the film which is significant to cultural artistic heritage and movie history, but also the film itself, as an artistic and creative artifact that belongs to a unique form of artistic expression. Certainly this is the case for other film archives, but perhaps a film archive located in an art museum, especially one with the reputation and legacy of MoMA, has the ability to see beyond the “film” as something that is only important because of the moving image it contains and more as an artistic medium that in itself  is culturally important and worth saving.

~Rebecca Stanwick

References

“Film Preservation Center.” MoMA. Museum of Modern Art, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute

Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI)
Jean-Louis Bigourdan of the Image Permanence Institute (IPI)

Like a newly donated film, there is much more to Jean-Louis Bigourdan than initially meets the eye.  On the surface, Jean-Louis lives a pastoral life –he lives on a farm complete with sheep and horses.  However, after interviewing him and hearing about his work at the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) in New York, it became clear that Jean-Louis also has a mind for science and art.  Jean Louis’ official title is research scientist, but his job requires a bit more clarification.  He explained,

My primary job is to conduct applied research focusing on providing new preservation strategies for cultural materials, mostly information-recording media such as films, microfilms, photographs, magnetic tapes… This includes identifying a problem, designing a research project to address the problem, developing a proposal and applying for funding, conducting the research, and disseminating findings by providing preservation strategies to museums, archives, and libraries.

Since I started at IPI I was fortunate enough to be able to go from one project to the next, and often dealt with several at the same time. What I do is a mix between conducting experiments, field surveys, data analysis, and providing education. For a number of years, I have also provided guidance to interns who come to IPI through the AMIA and Selznick School of Film Preservation; these internships are designed to provide insights into preservation research; I personally learn a lot from the interns and hope they learn a lot during their stay. All of them have contributed in various ways to the work we do at IPI.

Ipi_logo_new_2009_outlines

Jean-Louis has a background in chemistry and photography and has also studied the conservation of photographic materials.  His interest in film preservation began when he took a weeklong workshop on film preservation from Anne Cartier-Bresson.  He feels this broad and varied background has been quite beneficial in his current work, noting that,

I didn’t realize it at first, but in fact, the different parts fit well together to support my current activity. Chemistry, team work in the corporate world, studies in photography, museums and archives experience, studies in conservation and preservation of photographic materials, and the last twenty years or so working at IPI help a great deal to do what I do.

Because of Jean Louis’ extensive work with film, I was particularly interested in his thoughts on the end of film production.  Jean Louis feels that the end of film production makes film preservation all that more vital.  He explained,

[The end of film production] doesn’t mean that film preservation is dead, on the contrary. Film-based collections are numerous, and most importantly are irreplaceable. Today, preserving original film materials is even more critical for a couple of reasons. First, there is so much knowledge recorded on photographic film that reformatting most of it is daunting at least, and most likely an impossible task. Second, in many situations, viewing the original materials will still be the only way to appreciate the material. So, in both situations it is, and will be, an important task to make sure that these original objects survive as long as possible. To contrast that idea, I would say that most have no problem with the strategy, which consists in reformatting magnetic media as a preservation strategy. The old idea of preserving/restoring film using film media will have to be entirely abandoned at some point. People watch movies today in so many formats and venues. But many film collections will still be around if kept properly.

Jean Louis also emphasized the importance of film preservation in the specific context of his work and the work of the IPI.  When asked if he felt that his job might change with the end of film production, Jean Louis responded,

Not really, because as I said above, it is even more important today to do the best we can to preserve film materials, and movies in particular, in their original formats. Regarding film preservation today, my role, and IPI’s role is to make sure that what we have learned during twenty years of research is used, i.e., applied in the field in one form or another. In other words, I don’t think that we have to spend more money on research per se, but rather make a special effort to communicate and develop new tools. That is the idea behind the project I am working on right now. IPI receives funding from NEH to develop a web-based tool for film preservation: www.filmcare.org will be an educational but also a film preservation management tool.

After hearing about Jean Louis’ fascinating work at the Image Permanence Institute and his confidence in the necessity of the continuation of innovative work in film preservation, it would be difficult not to want to get involved.  It is fitting, then, to end with Jean Louis’ excellent advice for aspiring film archivists:

As I say often, preserving film is not only about film. Film archivists are responsible for many other materials, i.e., posters, publications, letters, scripts, stills, DVD, tapes… so the more you learn about other media and how to care for them, the better film archivists you will be.

~Colleen Martin