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The History and Importance of Film Archival

What Is The Performativity And Techniques Of Production.

The history of films are long and vivid. Films has for generations reflected the various aspects of human life through realistic presentation of real world situations. However there have been films that have themes like science fiction or horror which cannot be termed as realistic in its true sense, however there is no other medium which has so vividly and perfectly defined human emotions.

The history of the archival of the film started from the early efforts when people started endeavouring in preserving the movies for the longest time possible. Many kinds of experts such as “film historians, archivists, museums, cinematheques” come together in the effort (Birkin, 2015).

In the 1980’s the most prominent realisation was achieved by the film enthusiasts about the possibility of the films getting lost in the course of time. Primarily film preservation indicated the duplication of the films in various other mediums. A copy was the film was made in order to prevent the film from getting lost. Modern archival of film is necessary in order to maintain a library where any film can be accessed without any problem of the film getting lost or without any problem in the process of retrieval of the film. Therefore it requires a very elite process of preservation, archival, and digital record of all the films.

There are number of films from the historical era of film making, that is the time when the first silent movies were started to be shot, are now lost forever. This is great loss to the humanity in terms of film history and understand the evolution of films in historical perspective. In this regard many of the film bodies of different countries around the world are taking steps in order to archive the films in a way after careful preservation.

Film archival is the art in which the films are archived in a library so that they can be found and accessed at any point of time required. Film archival has led to formation of various institutions around the world who are dedicatedly working towards the objective of film archival and preservation. However there are dedicated research organisations which are taking care of the preservation of the films and there are dedicated organisations which are endeavouring in archiving all the films available.

The “American Film Institute” is one of the organisations that is dedicated towards various aspects of film including the archival of the films in an easily accessible format. The institute which was founded in the year of 1965 by Presidential mandate had the objective of being a pioneering institution in the field of the various aspects related to motion picture, more popularly which is known as “films”.  The objective included the aim of establishing a arts organisation in the national level dedicated towards the preservation of the legacy of the films of the United States and of the world.  National Endowment for the Arts, Motion Picture Association of America and the Ford Foundation are the three entities that came forward in helping of the establishment of the new institution. The institute has a dedicated section that deals with the archival of motion pictures.

The American Film Institute and its Archive

The objective of the American Film Institute Archive is to preserve and archive the history of the motion picture. According to the official statement of the organisation “The AFI Archive collects and preserves the heritage of the moving image” (Afi.com, 2018). That is the primary motive of the archival department of the institute.

As it is mentioned that many of the important international films were lost in the course of time. There are films that cannot be accessed because of the problem in their archival. If proper process of archival would have been implemented in these cases the situation of lost films which had historical value could be averted. The early films especially which were shot in the cellulose nitrate film base are very difficult to preserve or handle (Russell, 2018). The process of archival has to process, the digital archival of the copies of the films and the archival and preservation of original “film reels” which were originally shot. The 1930’s saw the first film archives to be established in all the countries that produces films, and all these institutes came under the umbrella organisation called the “Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF)”. Amerrican Film Institue is a member of the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) (Fiafnet.org, 2018).

The strategies of the film preservation and archival includes various technical, chemical and physical aspects. That would give a perfect archival of all the available films in a manner that the films can be retrieved or accessed depending on the date or alphabet of the film. The chemical aspect is mainly used in terms of preservation of the films that are in the process of decay. Many of the films are retrieved and rescued in a very unstable condition. For copying these into digital versions one needs to first repair the damages and then copy that into a digital version which can be digitally archived. The film reels can then be archived in its physical from in the library stacks (Lundemo, 2014).

The official statement mentions, “Housed at the Louis B. Mayer Library on the AFI Campus, the Archive comprises nearly 50 years of rare and unique materials from across the history of cinema and television” (Afi.com, 2018). 

Therefore the institute has a dedicated campus that is looking after the aspect of the archival of many rare or semi rare films that are to be accessed by various film researchers and students at a later stage.  The various materials that are archived in the institute are “audio and video interviews, conversations, oral histories, photographs, unpublished scripts, production materials, ephemera and transcripts of seminars, interviews, workshops, classes, programming and events.” The archive is available for the film researchers and students but it can be accessed only by appointment.

Strategies for Film Preservation and Archival

The institute has researcher working on preservation of various films in various film laboratories and preservation centres in the country. Many of the activities take place under the guidance of the International Federation of the Film Archive, which is the umbrella organisation working towards the goal of shaping and preserving the history of films. The objective of the umbrella organisation is to “to promote the creation of moving image archives in countries which lack them”, “to foster training and expertise in preservation and other archive techniques”. Hence one of the strategy is to train the students in the science of film preservation and archival that can help in improving the process of preservation. The American Film Institute has dedicated department that trains students in the field.

Archival of historical films needs to be done in a systematic way which will help in getting access to the films whenever required (Duff & Haskell, 2015). This will require the films to be archived physically in an alphabetical order or according to the dates. This is one of the strategy that is adopted by the institute. The digital archive can be accessed through the ERP system where the names of the films can be searched and it will pop up. Therefore it is imperative to update the digital archive along with the physical archive of the film library.

Qualitatively the mediums of audio visual presentation such as the reels or the films are varied, these have different characteristic features. Therefore the process of the preservation of the films are also varied (Fossati, Bloemheuvel & Guldemond, 2012).  There are “edited and unedited material, published and unpublished sources, posters and film programmes” and various other forms of film archival that is being supported in the American Film Institute. The institute also has strategically preserved various printed materials related to the films such as the “collection of journals, magazines and relevant publications”.  

The strategies of the film preservation has been executed by developing the infrastructural facilities of the institute (Filmpreservation.org, 2018). First of all a separate campus has been formed with all the needed infrastructure and materials for the films to be archived. The technical instruments are acquired that is needed to successfully convert the rare heritage films to digital format.

The institute has many full time or part time experts who have been associated in the process. These experts have been helpful in the preservation and rescue of many of the historical films. Various film laboratories have been used to execute the process of film preservation.

The Science of Film Preservation and Archival

The preservation of films and its archival in the physical form includes the placing of the films in a climate controlled box or vault that is placed carefully in secured condition (Filmpreservation.org, 2018). Thomas Ballhausen mentions “Film archives are primarily faced with two kinds of damage when restoring a film: damage to the material itself which has occurred either during the production process or as a result of use, and damage caused by inappropriate storage. Preservation therefore goes hand in hand with conservation, in other words with the safekeeping and frequent inspection of existing holdings” (Ballhausen, 2008). Therefore the archival is not only the process of storing the films but also repairing the damages that may have been associated with them. The author also emphatically mentions. “Correct storage of film material demands an environment which can guarantee a certain temperature and humidity. In terms of climate the ideal film depot adheres to two principles: it must be cool in order to slow down the chemical processes occurring within the material, and it must be dry to prevent moisture from affecting the layer of gelatine that covers the material or from joining forces with heat and encouraging harmful bacteria” (Ballhausen, 2008). These have been followed in the film archival department of American Film Institute to carefully preserve and archive the films.

Conclusion

History of the cinema is vivid and there are various films that acted as milestones to establish cinema as one of the primary mediums of human expression. Film preservation and archival is very necessary to ensure the conservation of all such films. American Film Institute is doing a commendable job in this regard and the strategies of film archival are executed well in order to achieve the objectives of the preservation of rare films.

Other film institutes around the world must take the necessary steps to preserve films of their country and the international films as well so that these can be later accessed by all the film researchers, enthusiasts and students. Any film lost due to carelessness and lack of archival is great loss to human society.

Reference:

Afi.com. (2018). American Film Institute - AFI Archive. Afi.com. Retrieved 21 April 2018, from https://www.afi.com/preserve/archive.aspx

Ballhausen, T. (2008). On the History and Function of Film Archives.

Birkin, J. (2015). Art, work, and archives: performativity and the techniques of production. Archive Journal, 5, 1-14.

Duff, W. M., & Haskell, J. (2015). New Uses for Old Records: A Rhizomatic Approach to Archival Access. The American Archivist, 78(1), 38-58.

Fiafnet.org. (2018). International Federation of Film Archives. Fiafnet.org. Retrieved 21 April 2018, from https://www.fiafnet.org/

Filmpreservation.org. (2018). National Film Preservation Foundation: Treasures from American Film Archives. Filmpreservation.org. Retrieved 21 April 2018, from https://www.filmpreservation.org/dvds-and-books/treasures-from-american-film-archives

Fossati, G., Bloemheuvel, M., & Guldemond, J. (2012). Found Footage Filmmaking, Film Archiving and New Participatory Platforms. Found Footage Cinema Exposed. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press & Eye Film Institute Netherlands.

Lundemo, T. (2014). Archives and technological selection. Cinémas: Revue d'études cinématographiques/Cinémas: Journal of Film Studies, 24(2-3), 17-39.

Russell, C. (2018). Archiveology: Walter Benjamin and Archival Film Practices. Duke University Press.

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