DIVERSITY OF APPROACHES TO MEDIA PRESERVATION:
So, what about that Film collection of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il? Justin McKinney, an independent consultant, talked about the rumors and speculation surrounding the North Korean film archives.
It’s believed that for many years, North Korea ran a secretive operation to create dupes and copies of many films, particularly the films made in the West that were widely rumored to be his favorites. This was, allegedly, accomplished at international film festivals and screenings, where movies would be snuck into labs, some even into “bathtub labs” as improvised setups were referred to. This was a session heavy on speculation and rumor, but that’s all we have to go on with North Korea. For me, it’s another interesting intersection between the passion of amateur collecting and true academic research and how often the two intersect. Without James Card and his personal film collection, the George Eastman Museum would not have its world-class and invaluable film holdings. That leads to a brief summary of a much different session;
21ST CENTURY FILM PRESERVATION: A CASE STUDY – PARAMOUNT
Andrea Kalas, VP of Paramount and Laura Thornburg, Executive Director, Preservation and Restoration, highlighted the work of their team and presented several case studies of how they approach their job. Paramount has a massive catalog, both of their own movies and those from studios or collections they acquired, like; Republic Studios. In 2009, they formed a new team to build their Digital Asset Management system. Every holding – every piece of film and every hard-drive was carefully assessed. Elements are constantly checked and those in greater need of care are moved up the queue. I thought the most profound aspect of this talk was how open-minded and flexible their approach is – if a movie needs a photochemical approach to restoration, they will explore it or a digital-only, the same. They are one of the most ‘Agnostic’ of all media companies I’ve seen in their approach, highlighting openness and pragmatism and always taking a non-judgmental approach to solutions.
PLAY BALL! WRESTLING WITH THE CHALLENGES OF SPORTS COLLECTIONS
Many universities and some historic film archives have sports films in their holdings – these may be edited short films that tell a story, raw footage of a game or competition or instructional materials used by coaches and teachers. Although sports are often thought of as big money generators for a University, oftentimes it’s not the athletic departments that finance the archiving and storage of these films.
That task usually falls to the much less sufficiently funded archivists, librarians or special collections managers. Hannah Palin, Manager of Special Collections at the University of Washington talked about the massive amount of materials she has inherited from the athletic department, including over 3,000 films and 4,000 videotapes.
Many times, the athletic departments signed various licensing agreements, with their governing agencies, like the NCAA or with local or national television stations. So the use of these films as stock-footage money generators or as commercially-viable products is either impossible, or the rights are too murky to sort out.
Kimberly Tarr of the New York University Libraries, talked about the many historic films they now have in their archives and how they got there. At the beginning of the 20th Century, NYU had a celebrated athletic program as well as several famous ballplayers. The collection includes footage of Dave Myers, one of the first known African-American quarterbacks to play for a university team and the first known African-American to play ball on the field at Yankee Stadium. Their collection also includes footage of Ed Smith, the NYU football player who posed for a sculptor and became the figure on whom the famous Heisman Trophy’s stiff-arming football player was based on.
These movies resided for years in the universities sports-memorabilia collections, along with ticket stubs, program books, etc. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that these movies were finally separated out and transferred to the film archives, where they could be restored and new context and access can be given to them.
CATALOGING HOME MOVIES: CURRENT CHALLENGES AND EXPLORING SHARED SOLUTIONS & CIRCUMSCRIBING THE WORLD OF INDIE CINEMA
Two sessions that were unconnected but, nonetheless share many aspects had a lot to say about challenges with non-commercial or non-traditional media archiving.
Karianne Fiorini is an independent film archivist and curator and one of the founders of the Archivio Nazionale del Film di Famiglia (Italy), where she was Manager of Film Collections and Cataloguing for twelve years (2003-2015). She spoke about cataloging the home movies of one particular family and the broader challenges of archiving home movies.
While many films are donated by a family, many more just make their way into a collection in a random fashion, dropped off anonymously or acquired in estate sales or at flea-markets. These are usually non-narrative films that can’t be categorized by subject matter, but are fascinating for researchers and the general public alike.
Like the regional archives established by the BFI throughout Great Britain, Karen is involved with organizing home movies around regional maps, so an interactive website can be established. A user can click on a particular neighborhood map and up pops a list of available home movies that were shot in the area, with clickable links to viewing copies. It’s a brilliant and very intuitive way to organize and provide access to fascinating movies that might otherwise sit, unwatched, in a vault. Examples can be seen here; http://www.cittadegliarchivi.it/soggetti-conservatori/it-cpa-sc-home-movies
Albert Steg, of The Center For Home Movies talked about his work trying to help create a general taxonomy for cataloging home movies. Unlike a commercial work, where we might tag an entry with the name of an actor or location, Albert argues that home movies may need to be cataloged according to tropes, such as; “Travelogue”, “Community Events” or “Military”. Family movies are different from amateur movies, so sub-categories may need to be created with an eye toward building a universal way of organizing non-commercial films into searchable databases.
In the next session, Sandra Schulberg, the founder of The Independent Feature Project talked about her work with the non-profit organization, Laboratory for Icon & Idiom and it’s vital project; IndieCollect. IndieCollect is a growing database of Independent films, both for purposes of cataloging, research and preservation. This is a project I can relate to, having come from the world of independent filmmaking myself. Thousands of movies are made with small budgets and financed by non-media companies or independent investors. When we look at the poor condition of elements and metadata capture for large-scale studio projects, it only gets worse in the wild world of smaller scale “Indy” movies.
As the labs close and push out materials they have held onto for years, many of the movies are orphaned or the rights-holders are currently unknown. As noted earlier, institutions such as The Academy Film Archive receive entire pallets full of movies – but these are usually studio films. So what about the indy movies? Many of these were processed by Duart Labs in New York, who have now officially closed the doors to their processing lab. A massive relocation project has been underway for years to reunite these orphaned film elements with their owners. But many more remain orphaned, sitting on pallets in the hallways of institutions that have donated some space, like, the Library of Congress.
While the IndieCollect Index is the first comprehensive database of these films, and it can help in organizing and increasing access, many questions remain about the future of some of this material. Discussion included the need to help current filmmakers be more aware of the need to be their own archivists and create clear metadata for their materials and arrange some kind of storage solution.
And as for storage, where can we put all these orphaned films? Or the films of broke but brilliant filmmakers who can’t afford to properly store their materials? There are no easy answers, but the discussion continues. See http://indiecollect.org/ to get involved in finding homes for movies, increasing our knowledge and metadata for existing films and to learn how to educate others on how to preserve and protect.
ARCHIVAL SCREENING NIGHT
Standing-room only at the Whitsell Auditoreum as a huge crowd got to be reminded of why we do what we do – because we love the movies. Short excerpts from more than 20 different films and moving image ephemera of all sorts were screened. Too many to review here, but a few were standouts, including; 1919 World Series Footage – this excerpt, presented by the Library and Archives, Canada, showed the infamous Chicago White Sox playing the Cincinnati Reds, infamous because this was the so-called “Black-Sox Scandal” where the Chicago team was caught throwing games to enrich gangsters and themselves. I found the clip particularly interesting as it was a restoration of a heavily damaged piece of Nitrate film that was found in a filled-in swimming pool in Permafrost. Carefully restored, the high quality of the image attests to the amazing robustness of this older film stock. Also screened that night, The Little Baker, an excerpt from a stop-motion animation short comedy from circa 1925. While the story and animation were very humorous and entertaining, I appreciated that the clip was restored and presented by the Oregon Historical Society. One of the best things about travelling to distant cities for the AMIA conference is the opportunity to see locally-produced and restored films, like this. The filmmaker, Lew Cook, is a famous part of Portland’s long history of being a hub of animation. Particularly stop-motion animation, as Portland eventually became the home base for stop-motion filmmaking legend Will Vinton, the creator of such classics as The California Raisins.
THIS IS CINERAMA Remastered
One of the best events at AMIA as well as another great day for PRO-TEK, was this screening and demonstration. Randy Gitsch presented the restored; THIS IS CINERAMA. Randy, along with his Cinerama-Restoration team partner, Dave Strohmaier, screened a beautiful digital restoration of this incredible movie. Originally shot on 3 separate pieces of film, then projected on 3 different but coordinated projectors, Randy and his team have restored all of the original 3-panel Cinerama movies. They have traveled extensively throughout the world screening them and this year alone, they were at festivals or screenings in England, Denmark, Germany and more.
What a great example of the intersection between preservationists, film enthusiasts, archivists and collectors. As Randy and Dave explained, it was a passion for these movies they fell in love with as kids that led them to this. Working without a rulebook or map, they tracked down best surviving elements, traced copyrights and secured funding for this epic project.
And many elements were in serious states of decay because, as Randy puts it, they were stored in conditions that were not as ideal as the vaults here at PRO-TEK. And working on one Cinerama feature is like restoring 3 conventional features, because there are 3 separate negatives. Everything has to be coordinated carefully and repairs and restoration have to match razor-thin ratios so it all fits together perfectly.
In addition, Dave Strohmaier had to create a unique software-based solution that he calls; “Smilebox” to compensate for the distortion that can arise when you project a movie in an ordinary theatre that was meant to be projected on a deeply curved screen. And speaking of that deeply curved screen, this PRO-TEKKER, along with his colleague, Tobin Larson, participated in the screening by standing up and holding our outstretched arms to illustrate the original aspect ratio and dimensions in which This Is Cinerama was originally shown. Happy to be a small part of a big project.
AMIA 2015 Conference Wrap-Up is a 3 part article series written by Danny Kuchuck. Read all 3 write-ups here.