A Conversation with Dean Plionis

Dean Plionis

Dean Plionis began his career in a number of production-oriented jobs in Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, having studied film and television at Boston University.  Currently, he serves as the Director of Operations at Colorlab, a position that requires him to ensure the company’s efficient operation in preserving films and processing negatives. He notes that his transition from technical work to preservation work was a challenge, in that he had not previously been exposed to the world of film preservation. This transition is something he feels is “representative of most peoples’ experience in modern productions…there are schools and programs that do teach a lot of film handling and curating skills, but in general there’s a good deal of on-the-job training and education.  We work with such a huge variety of film formats, splicers, printers, and video and digital equipment that it’s not realistic to expect any one candidate to have all of that experience.”

Colorlab staff members, including Plionis himself, have hyphenated responsibilities; such multitasking in laboratory work is considered the norm in an increasingly digital-oriented preservation landscape. “There’s this hybridization of new digital and original mechanical technology, techniques, and workflows that’s been evolving over the last five to ten years and will continue to do so in the future,” Plionis notes, adding that more traditional workflows require an evolving, DIY skillset, particularly given declining manufacturer support and frequent modification and maintenance of preservation equipment. “Most productions originate on digital platforms now and each year, fewer of those productions are backed up or archived to some sort of physical medium…it’s not really an archival-friendly environment because the footage doesn’t exist in a physical form.”

Plionis says the biggest misconception people have about film is that it is inaccessible; he argues that digital and video formats are often less accessible than film, due to the lack of regularly-maintained technological support systems and the difficulty of reverse-engineering in accessing data. He cites recent industry discussions regarding 2” Quad tapes, the video format that was introduced in the 1950s – this format is no longer used in production and many in the preservation field are concerned about what continued efforts will be made once the last video heads for the format are produced. “Once the data encoding standards change – as they do regularly in the digital realm – all bets are off if that data is not continually migrated. The context of time over a period of decades needs to be considered when it comes to evaluating the ‘accessibility’ of any given media format, and film has certainly withstood that test,” he says, adding that “there have been studies showing that the long-term costs of preserving data to film are actually lower than preserving data digitally, once you factor in the costs associated with continually migrating digital data and upgrading computer systems in order to keep up with technological changes.  A newly-made film stored in a climate-controlled environment can last a hundred years or longer with minimal maintenance.”

Thus, while other formats have come and gone, film has remained a consistent presence in the preservation field, due in part to what Plionis refers to as the “human-readable” advantage of the medium – the images housed on a reel of film can be viewed by the human eye in a way digital images cannot. “From a technological standpoint, all that’s needed for a motion picture film is a light source and some sort of shutter, which people will always have the ability to recreate…original films really are the ultimate masters that preserve your ability to go back and re-visit the material as technology and standards change.”

Film

Colorlab staff often work with damaged prints.

Yet film preservation carries unique challenges. Plionis says, “the most difficult challenge the field of preservation faces is that it requires the allocation of time and resources today for the payoff of people having access to it a generation or two later.  Will they care, be thankful, and in turn, take it upon themselves to pass on this data to future generations?  There’s an element of trust involved that your preservation methods will hold up and that there will be someone waiting for it on the other end of time.” Format-specific preservation challenges are often represented by conflicting goals: Colorlab staff are charged with preserving the film, manipulating the image and sound as little as possible, while simultaneously correcting or repairing damage that has occurred since the time of creation.  Of Colorlab’s processes, Plionis notes, “we prefer to use photochemical processes to fix issues where we can, such as using liquid-gate when printing intermediates to naturally hide base scratches or rewash treatments to soften and anneal scratches in the emulsion.  Digital methods are still used but there is definitely an aspect of fixing an image too much, just like you can ‘photoshop’ an image to the point where it looks fake and inauthentic.  In general, we have a more minimalist intervention perspective and we certainly won’t add color to a B/W image that never had color or do anything like Spielberg or Lucas did with reissues of their older films where they digitally removed the guns from the hands of agents or added CGI over their original effects.”

At the end of the day, Colorlab staff defer to clients, as the stewards of the films, to make decisions regarding preservation. “We feel it’s more our job to stand back and explain the options available,” Plionis says, citing a recent project in which a client requested the addition of an explanatory title card in an incomplete silent film: “The question then becomes, do we try to make that title card match the exact style of the other inter-titles or not? Maybe that’s too ‘interpretive’ while the other may disrupt the viewing experience if it seems too out of place.” Questions of authenticity become a discussion between client and staff, with Plionis adding that “choices like that are really the client’s to make.”

In addition to working with clients on preservation projects, Colorlab staff regularly provides outreach by attending archival conferences and conventions such as AMIA, The Orphan Film Symposium, and The Flaherty Film Seminar, often participating in technical discussion panels. The company occasionally takes on interns, but the high learning curve that goes into training and education is often a deterrent.

Currently, Colorlab staff are working on several high-profile projects, including preservation of original production and interview outtakes from the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, a documentary about Carnegie Hall’s 1986 renovation, The 28-Week Miracle, and a film called Nenotri I Dyte (The Second November), for the Albanian Cinema Project, an effort to introduce historically-isolated Albanian cinema to global audiences for the first time. Additionally, Colorlab recently provided archival transfers to Ken Burns for his upcoming 7-episode documentary, The Roosevelts.

Though Plionis believes that film’s days as a mainstream production format are numbered, he doesn’t see the format going completely away: “there will always be a group of people devoted to it, just like there’s always a group of people devoted to using any other obsolete format and technology.” Film’s greatest advantage, he argues, is in its use as a preservation format, “given its time-tested resiliency, its human-readability, and the fact that a projector or other scanning equipment can always be reverse-engineered…the key to seeing film survive in this format is basically tied in with the larger argument for preservation.”

~Kaitlin Conner

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Over 7000 titles added to the IU Libraries online catalog!

Over the weekend the Indiana University Libraries added 7,327 records of educational films to its online catalog, IUCAT. The films are part of the IU Libraries Film Archive’s 2011 acquisition of around 12,000 reels from the Lane Education Service District. With this new addition, the IU Libraries Film Archive now has over 25,000 records up at IUCat.

The Collection field at IUCat

The Collection field at IUCat

The IU Libraries Film Archive’s catalog records can be searched by selecting the archive in the “Collection” pulldown menu on the main page of IUCat.

Originally, the Lane Education Service District loaned these films out to the 16 school districts in Lane County, Oregon. Centralizing large film collections in this manner was a common way to efficiently and economically serve a larger public with a greater range of films than if each school bought their own films. In fact, Indiana University began collecting and distributing films in the 1920s along similar lines. IU was part of the University Extension movement where state universities would mange and share educational media throughout their state.

A stack of films from the Lane Education Service District waiting to be cataloged

A stack of films from the Lane Education Service District waiting to be cataloged

These 7,327 titles span the history of educational filmmaking from the 1940s through the early 90s. Looking at the collection as a whole presents a narrative of what educators thought were the pressing issues of their times. At this macro level, these films reveal changing attitudes to teaching methods and social issues. The Lane Education Service District will be of interest to scholars from a wide range of interests including the history of popular science, how children learned about sexuality and human development, the anti-drug movement, views on disabilities, and much more.

The films are equally intriguing at the level of the individual title. To pick a title at random, Signals And Gestures In Traffic Direction, brings up a 1954 film with the following brief description from the online catalog: “Demonstrates the proper signals and gestures for traffic officers to use in directing traffic.”[1] Unfortunately, the film isn’t digitized yet – though one can watch it onsite at the IU Libraries Film Archive – so we can’t get a direct sense of how the film accomplished its training mission.

But a quick search for the title in the Media History Digital Library’s Lantern search tool uncovers an article on page 60 of the 1954 Business Screen Magazine Production Review, “Visual Training Program for Traffic Officers Sponsored by Insurance Group.” Signals and Gestures was the first in a four-part series of films sponsored by the National Association of Automotive Mutual Insurance Companies designed to train “officers directing traffic from Maine to California” so they are “doing it in exactly the same way.” Vogue-Wright Studios, a Chicago film company that made industrial and public relation films, produced it. The Traffic Institute of Northwestern University, described as “a national enforcement authority,” offered technical advice on the film’s content.

Still from "Signals and Gestures" from 1954 "Business Screen Magazine Production Review"

Still from “Signals and Gestures” from 1954 “Business Screen Magazine Production Review”

Signals and Gestures in Traffic Direction shows how commercial interests and higher education united their interests through educational filmmaking to manage and standardize behavior at a national level. Why this film, made to train traffic cops, is in a collection of classroom films primarily directed at elementary students is a whole other question. But it points to the way these films, seemingly fun and innocuous, deployed educational media as an extension of corporate and governmental interests, and how the classroom screening was a site where competing views on profit and pedagogy came into contest.

And an EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS goes out to all of the people whose work made these records accessible:

Mechael Charbonneau, Associate Dean for Technical Services and Spencer Anspach, Library Systems Analyst/ Programmer from the Technical Services Department for cross-walking the data, cleaning up the records and setting up the workflow to allow the Film Archive staff to link the films to the records.

And the IU Libraries Film Archive excellent employees: Sean Smalley, Asia Harman, Josephine McRobbie, Jason Evans Groth and Jacob Shelby for identifying, bar-coding and linking each and every physical film to it’s catalog record and recanning the films and testing for deterioration.

Also, thanks as always to the remarkable Auxilliary Library Facility staff of Vaughn Nuest, Matt Myers, Sean Frey, Meko Mai and Craig Kinney for ingesting and shelving all 12,745 film cans for long term preservation storage at the ALF facility.

 


[1] http://www.iucat.iu.edu/catalog/10905854

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A Conversation with Nico de Klerk

 

Nico de Klerk

Nico de Klerk

A film historian, curator and researcher, Nico de Klerk’s professional interests lie outside the typical film canon. During his student years, he “roamed a bit initially” before receiving an English degree at the Leiden University and later obtaining his Master of Arts in Discourse Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. His interest in film came much later, and “it came with a  vengeance,” he notes.  Building up his expertise with volunteer stints at Amsterdam art houses and Skrien magazine, he eventually settled at what was then called Nederlands Filmmuseum (now EYE): “Because of the  museum’s programming, I developed an interest in early cinema, nonfiction in particular – that is what made me want to work there,” he says.

His role as the institute’s first Collection Researcher was in keeping with the museum archives’ mission at the time: “the philosophy was that the archive’s perceived weakness, i.e. its lack of canonical and other titles that show up in every top 100, could be transformed into its strength.” He notes the works of programmers Eric de Kuyper and Peter Delpeut, who screened series of unknown materials from such silent film-era directors as Yevgeni Bauer, Franz Hofer, Alfred Machin and Leonce Perret, as well as expedition films of the 1920s and color-film tests of the 1910s. “As an archive, I think, we were one of the first in trying to put ‘peripheral’ topics center stage and open it to outside expertise and input,” he says.

amsterdam workshop 94

Proceedings of the 1994 Amsterdam Workshop on early nonfiction.

amsterdam workshop 95

Proceedings of the 1995 Amsterdam Workshop on color in silent film.

Such measures included the creation of the Amsterdam 
Workshops, in which groups of 50 to 60 international archivists and scholars were invited to participate in discussions of materials and topics de Klerk researched— such as early nonfiction, colonial cinema, the program format, and advertising film. de Klerk would then create unique programs for the sessions. “That’s when I discovered the power and the effects of programming,” he says. The workshops were also intended to give participants an impetus to incorporate their experiences into their own professional lives.

de Klerk’s passion for the peripheral topics of cinema history extends to his interest in orphan films, which he attributes to his work with the EYE. Attending the first Orphan Film Symposium in 1999, de Klerk was unaware of the existing community of like-minded professionals with this interest. “You might say I worked on orphan films before I even knew the term and what it meant…that first symposium was a homecoming…what touched me was the devotion people displayed to those largely forgotten and unknown materials, the knowledge people had acquired about the stuff they showed and introduced, and – most of all – the democratic atmosphere, in that it didn’t matter whether you worked at Yale or UCLA or had a non-cinema day job and did your research in your spare time.”

de Klerk's work on J.C. Lamster, an early filmmaker in the Dutch East Indies, was published in 2010.

de Klerk’s work on J.C. Lamster, an early filmmaker in the Dutch East Indies, was published in 2010.

With such a vested interest in the diversity of both archival holdings and the field itself, de Klerk argues that the greatest challenge facing the preservation community is conformity in programming – that the types of films featured in archival screenings are those that can be viewed at home. Such retrospectives are “predominantly based on a few principles – personality, nationality, genre…insofar these institutes have their own collections, only a fraction of their holdings are being presented.” de Klerk argues that the types of materials that belong to “the slow lane of film history” have been relegated to online exhibitions and presentations, despite the fact that many institutions may lack the resources for a proper online presence; further, these films were originally seen in a theatrical context in much the same way that some of the more retrospective-ready titles were. “I see no reason to relegate these materials to a mere digital life, certainly not when they are presented without any relevant form of contextualization,” he says. “If your mission is to present the heritage you are responsible for, it is imperative to find ways to meaningfully and imaginatively present all your holdings.”

The 2013 Orphans Midwest Film Symposium will be hosted at Indiana University Bloomington this week. For more information, including a full calendar of events, visit the Indiana University Cinema website.

~Kaitlin Conner

 

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Campus Culture and Gender Ideology: A Look at 1953′s Your Daughter at I.U.

your daughter at iu       your daughter at iu 2

Beneath the veneer of the seemingly idyllic 1950s America lay an undercurrent of social unrest, as postwar expectations of gender roles, particularly·in regards to receiving a university education, sought to reinforce traditions that had all but been upended in the previous decade.  Prior to World War II, admissions at Indiana University Bloomington saw men outnumbering women three-to-one in the classroom. During wartime, women outnumbered men two-to-one.

gi bill

Students register for classes using their GI Bill (1947). Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives.

Thanks to such measures as the G.I. Bill, the postwar years saw the majority male student population return to Indiana University, and images of female empowerment of the previous decade (perhaps best represented by the iconic Rosie the Riveter campaign) were replaced by images of docility, compliance, and traditional femininity, as women were once again being primed for futures as wives and mothers.

Your Daughter at I.U., a 1953 college recruitment video marketed toward the parents of prospective female students, serves as a striking representation of how gender roles were being negotiated in the postwar years.  As the film’s (male) narrator cheerfully proclaims in its opening moments, “modern life is complex…to meet it, our daughters need a many sided-education.” The result of such a well-rounded education?  “A woman may be the center of the home, bringing up a healthy, well-adjusted family in comfortable, attractive surroundings.”

your daughter at iu 4

“Students in the home management house care for a real baby…and as you can see, he gets good care!”

The film’s  exploration of career paths for Indiana University students highlights professions viewed as traditionally feminine – nurses, teachers, and other positions related to home economics and domestic work.  The university is depicted as offering courses in “basic subjects” including “arts and crafts.”  Further, such curriculum options are deemed necessary not for the student’s betterment, but for the eventual support of her husband and family: “[the woman] will do most of the family buying, and she will be her husband’s  partner in major decisions; therefore, she must understand financial matters and how to deal with them.”

your daughter at iu 5

“The modern woman may be a wage-earner until she gets married, or even after marriage. Or later, when her children are grown, she may help her husband in his business.”

Yet Your Daughter at I.U.’ s representation of traditional gender roles was incongruous with notable campus developments of the time.  Only one year before the film’s release, the Indiana Memorial Union Board began admitting women for the first time, despite the fact that the organization had been active since 1909. Also of note is the publication of Alfred Kinsey‘s controversial Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, which challenged conventional beliefs about female sexuality. The hiring of Eunice Roberts as Indiana University’s Assistant Dean of Faculties cemented the university’s status as one of the few colleges at the time employing a woman full-time to develop educational programs and services for women.

Kinsey

A student reads Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). Image courtesy of Indiana University Archives.

Such achievements in redefining gender norms were in direct contrast to university policy, which aggressively policed female students’ behavior. According to a 1947 social guidance booklet distributed by the university, female students were instructed to wear sweaters, skirts, ankle socks and loafers, and were forbidden from wearing slacks or shorts in the campus dining halls.  Jeans were also prohibited save for a few exceptions – lounging on Saturdays, at hayrides, or at picnics. Further, the Association for Women Students published a yearly handbook of mandatory moral and social standards, guidelines that were perhaps best expressed in the curfew policy.  Nightly curfews applied to all women, and expressly stated that women had to be in their dorms or houses by 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and by 12:30 a.m. on weekends.  Social Standards and House Regulations were distributed to dormitory residents in much the same way these other social guidance booklets were.

Arguably, the Indiana University of the 1950s was something of a microcosm of the United States at large, simultaneously reinforcing and questioning cultural expectations of gender roles, which would soon be on the cusp of significant transformation with the emergence of second-wave feminism in the early 1960s. Your Daughter at I.U. is an important work in understanding the intersection between conventional gender role expectations of the postwar era, how these expectations were reinforced in the context of receiving a university education, and perhaps most importantly, the gradual yet significant unrest in maintaining them.

Your Daughter at I.U. is held in the Indiana University Libraries Film Archive’s Educational Film Collection and can be viewed online via the university’s video streaming service. 

~Kaitlin Conner

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An interview on video collecting with Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector co-director Dan Kinem

The private collector plays an integral part in the field of moving image preservation. However, their important role is often shunted aside in favor of professional and institutional efforts. Sure, you can accuse them of being obsessive, but the media collector is the person doing the hard work in the trenches. They go places archivists don’t have the time or money to go to, saving neglected tapes and films from dumpsters, thrift stores, and estate sales. In recovering overlooked and looked-down-upon media genres they provide a needed corrective to the canons formed by academia, professional critics, and archives.

In conjunction with the Bloomington, Indiana screening of the fantastic new documentary on the cult and culture of video collecting, Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector, Andy Uhrich of the IU Libraries Film Archive interviewed the doc’s co-director Dan Kinem via email.

The documentary screens in Bloomington at 8pm on Tuesday, August 27th at the Fine Arts Building. Dan and his co-director Tim May will be on hand with loads of old VHS tapes. Go see the movie and catch the video collecting bug! For more information on the screening, which is being promoted by Video Boom and the IU Student Society of Retro Archivers, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/477433755684398/. The film’s official website, where you can follow the progress of the tour is at http://www.adjustyourtracking.com/.

Q: As a reader of your and co-director Tim May’s website VHS***fest, I assume you’re a video collector. But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Would you consider yourself a video collector? If so, how’d you start?
A: I would definitely consider myself a video collector. I’ve always loved movies and have always bought movies, regardless of the format, but it wasn’t until a little over 3 years ago that I got hardcore into collecting VHS tapes. I started realizing how many movies weren’t on DVD and how much interesting material was on the VHS format. I slowly started buying movies here and there and the collection kept growing to the point where I have about 8,000 VHS.

Q: How’d you move from a collector of video to making a documentary on video collecting?
A: I started meeting other collectors and slowly realized this resurgence in the love of the format was important enough to document and the people involved in this subculture were interesting and entertaining enough to make a movie about them. It just seemed like the perfect topic for a film and something I felt could entertain a general audience and people who already loved VHS, too.

Q: In your opinion what separates video collecting from collecting film prints or DVD collecting? Or, I guess now, from a person’s Netflix queue?
A: Well, in my opinion DVDs are disposable. They are easily damaged beyond repair and in most cases done poorly. When a DVD is done well, with special features and great cover art, then it’s a great format. There isn’t the scarcity element to DVD, either. They are so easy to find, duplicate, etc. Whereas with VHS there are many tapes out there that might only have a few copies and if people don’t dig them up they might be gone forever. There is also so much more material on VHS to uncover. Collecting film prints is a great hobby and one that I really respect. It is obviously going to be the preferred way to watch a movie in most cases but it isn’t accessible to everyone, unlike VHS. Netflix queue “collections” or digital file “collections” is a joke. Watch and enjoy the movies but calling a bunch of files on a computer a collection is disgusting.

Q: What’s the relationship between the videotape as an object and the film recorded on it? Maybe this is another way of asking what’s special about videotape in relation to other media?
A: VHS has a certain quality to it that lends itself well to exploitation and obscure films. It adds a fuzziness to movies that makes them scarier and in many cases more unique/interesting. You get all the pops, cracks, tracking lines, etc. and no other format is like that. It also was so easily accessible to the common man that you get so much content that isn’t available anywhere else, whether that be home movies, weird shot on video movies, documentaries, how-to videos, shorts, etc. So much stuff that will never reach another format.

Q: Are certain genres of film more collectable on videotape now than others? What distinguishes a collectible VHS from non-collectible VHS? As a follow-up to that question, in your trailer Josh Schafer states that the “great thing VHS can do [is] bring people the weirdest s*** possible.” What happens to the more normal stuff? For example, are there VHS collectors of Tom Hanks movies?
A: Horror is definitely the most collectible genre, mainly because so much of it isn’t available on any other format and also because of the amazing box art on many of those titles. There are many different factors, but it all depends on the person. The first thing to look at is, “Is this on DVD?” If it isn’t, then it’s worth picking up for cheap because it’s another movie you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. Another factor is how often you come across this certain release/movie. People don’t buy Jurassic Park because those are everywhere and it has been released on DVD multiple times. However, if you see a copy of Lunch Meat [a 1987 horror film about cannibal rednecks], you will realize you’ve never seen that tape before and that it is hard to get otherwise. There are always people who will collect anything. There’s thousands and thousands of people out there who still own all the Tom Hanks shit on VHS, but if you want to fill your collection with rare, out of print, hard to find titles then Tom Hanks isn’t the actor to look for.

Q: Your trailer also quotes Dimitri Simakis of Everything is Terrible that “if we don’t get this stuff no one else will and that’s really scary.” I wonder if you could expand on that. What would get lost and why is it important? What else do we – collectors, archivists, genre film fans – need to do to save this material?
A: So many movies, TV shows, home videos, how-to tapes, etc. would be lost forever if there aren’t collectors out there digging for these obscure films, which in many cases only had a very limited print run. There’s so many movies out there that people will probably never see because all available copies were thrown out, destroyed, or lost. As archivists/collectors it’s our job to dig for these rare movies, bring them home, talk about them, share them with others, write about them, document them, etc. A film fan should want to devour as much film as possible and there are so many lost gems on VHS.

Q: On a similar note, what sense is there among video collectors that what they are doing is preserving this stuff? Is there any thinking about these collections as archives? Have you noticed any crossover with the world of professional film/video preservation?
A: I feel like most people who collect are preserving these tapes. Even if they aren’t sharing them online they are still keeping them safe in their collections and making sure they don’t get destroyed. Every VHS collector I know would gladly share one of the tapes in their collection with you. That is why VHS collecting is so fun and the community is so great. I have noticed a lot of crossover, I feel both come from the same mindset that “We love movies and we want to save them and watch them however they are available.”

Q: In your mind, what’s more important: the film recorded on the tape or the tape itself? Or can the two not be separated? I ask because the standard form of video preservation is to digitize it and downplay the original artifact: to save the content at the expense of the carrier. As an expert on video collecting do you have any thoughts about such a policy?
A: The film is always most important. That is why I got into collecting is because I love movies, but ignoring the significance and importance of the original box, tape, company, artwork, etc. is idiotic. That is just as interesting as the film most of the time and there’s so much history in each release that it would be stupid to ignore that. Obviously buy these tapes to watch the movie and to share with other people, but enjoy the release of the movie, too, that’s half of the fun.

Q: It’s great that you all are on going on tour with the documentary and often screen it in conjunction with VHS swaps. This makes it a communal event beyond the normal act of going to a movie theater. In your way of thinking, what’s the ideal way to see Adjust Your Tracking? At the movie theater? Off of a VHS tape on a standard def analog TV? Illegally downloaded on a computer? Or does this sort of thing not matter to you all?
A: I really just want people to see the movie. I don’t care how they see it, just that they watch it and enjoy themselves. I want to get the movie as widely seen as possible. But, if I had to answer, I would say in the theater screened from a VHS tape would be the best way to see it. Secondly, would be with a bunch of friends at your house on a VHS tape.

Interviewer’s note: since this is a blog post from a library, we’d be remiss in not mentioning books on this subject. For readings on the histories of video collecting check out the following from your local library: Lucas Hilderbrand’s Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright and Joshua M. Greenberg’s From Betamax to Blockbuster: Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video 

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A Conversation with Caroline Frick

Caroline Frick currently juggles responsibilities for no fewer than three positions, which include the Founder and Executive Director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Austin, and President of the Board for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA).

After studying history and film at the University of East Anglia, Frick worked for the National Archives, Library of Congress, and Warner Bros., and ran the Film Preservation Festival for the AMC cable television network.  She then moved to Austin, Texas where she earned her PhD in the Department of Radio-TV-Film at The University of Texas at Austin in 2005.   While working on her PhD, Frick founded the Texas Archive of the Moving Image in 2002: “My educational and professional experiences contributed very much to starting a regional film archive; most importantly, the master’s program I attended was housed in a regional archive,” she says. Also influential in her decision to found TAMI was her work running the National Film Registry Tour for the Library of Congress, in which major Hollywood features were screened alongside more obscure footage produced within the state. “Many times, there were longer lines for local film events than Hollywood’s most famous titles” she says, before adding, “The US has an incredibly rich moving image history that is still undiscovered and unwritten.  Industrial filmmaking, educational productions and advertising materials provide equally valuable insight to our historical past…by the time I got to Texas, I was primed and interested in this type of material. Texas is unique because it has been so highly profiled – often erroneously – in Hollywood films.” Frick’s work with TAMI blends both her personal and research interests in Hollywood history and local materials.  For her academic research, she finds it fascinating “how different national or regional contexts have defined preservation –related terms and how different contexts have similarly or differently taken approaches to preserving materials.”

“What TAMI aspires to be is a hub to bring together people and organizations interested in ensuring long-term preservation and access to moving image,” she says, noting that the expense of preservation often ensures it remains a low priority. TAMI’s access-driven mission aims to raise awareness of the value of films in historical collections: “People need to see this material to understand the value of it,” Frick notes. “One of our current projects is to raise money to revamp the look of our curated collections, especially with an eye towards greater use by K-12 educaters and so-called ‘lifelong learners.’ There’s nothing more fulfilling than introducing our content to people who’ve never seen it or thought about it before – the realization in their eyes and the excitement.”

Outreach initiatives at TAMI include the Texas Film Round-Up, a free digitization service for any individual or organization with state-related audiovisual materials. Once digitized, the films are added to TAMI’s online library, and the supplying organization receives a copy as well as the original artifacts.  A small museum exhibit denoting both the history of film and broadcasting in the region as well as preservation techniques travels with the program.  The Texas Film Round-Up often screens collection material which helps dispel some of the erroneous notions people have of the state’s media history.  “For example, a lot of people think of Texas film and think of Hollywood cowboys – our collection reveals so much more!” Frick notes.

Bloom (2012), produced as part of TAMI’S Mess with Texas program

Another initiative, Mess with Texas, is a collaborative effort between TAMI and Texas art museums, in which video artists are given audiovisual materials and encouraged to “mess with them.”  The project’s name is a clever nod to the Don’t Mess with Texas environmental campaign.

Having served as President of the AMIA board since 2011, Frick sees her current roles within both TAMI and AMIA intersecting with one another: “Sometimes when you’re working on something that’s more narrowly focused with a refined, geographically-focused mission, it really helps to keep abreast of what’s happening on national and international levels…[AMIA gives us] a unique, level playing field for us to talk with one another.”  As AMIA board members represent various components of the organization’s membership, “having a sense of where many of our different voices come from is quite helpful.”

Much like her work with TAMI, Frick wants to see AMIA work further to raise public awareness of the value of AV preservation.  “The fantastic work of our members helps communicate to the public why [film archivists] are here, what we’re doing, and why it matters.” Last year’s beta test of the Festival of the Archives, in partnership with the Seattle International Film Festival, helped raise awareness of the preservation efforts undertaken by media archives around the country; it’s something Frick hopes to see continue in the future. “Just because you turn on the television and you see a black and white movie doesn’t mean it’s going to be there forever…ultimately, we try to keep material alive for as long as possible.”

Frick argues that, as the preservation field continues to grow and evolve, with formats becoming increasingly obsolete, “there’s going to be more awareness over time for the need of this kind of work, coming from a variety of different sectors.”  Frick hopes that AMIA will continue to bring together divergent voices from a number of professional settings, but remarks that engaging with diverse groups can sometimes be a challenge: “What I fear is the increased tension between those who are very much dedicated to conservation of film material and those who are advocating for constant migration of data. (i.e., what do we prioritize, content vs. carrier?) My biggest hope is to see that all of us are talking about the same thing.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Frick argues that “there’s no better time to get involved with the media preservation community. There are so many exciting opportunities developing in so many different sectors if one is open to the ways audiovisual preservation can be defined.”

~Kaitlin Conner

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Dynamic Duo: Milestone Films’ Dennis Doros and Amy Heller

Started as a “weekend hobby” in 1987 by husband and wife team Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, Milestone Films has since become a renowned distributor and preserver of classic film, documentaries, and independent cinema. “We are not always prudent and we are hardly ever commercial, but we pride ourselves on being passionate, ridiculously over-researched and persnickety about sound and image quality,” Heller says.

Doros’ involvement in preservation began while employed at Kino International, during which time he oversaw the restorations of silent films Queen Kelly and Sadie Thompson. Heller, who studied labor history at Yale, entered the field after working for First Run Features, an independent distribution company that carries social and historical documentaries.  Having worked together for three years on a series of film restorations they later named “The Age of Restoration,” Doros and Heller founded Milestone in 1990 after discovering that other distribution entities were not interested in releasing the films.

At Milestone, experience and availability factor into the decision-making process for preservation and distribution, but often, personal interests serve as the biggest motivator.  Heller says, “I think that one aspect of [our] mission that I especially love is the way our work really sets out to and does mess with the established film canon. I grew up knowing that ‘the personal is political’ and I really enjoy extending that mantra to include our acquisition and distribution decisions. We love helping critics, audiences and historians rediscover the neglected films of women, African American and other great independent filmmakers. To our delight, we have seen our film releases change the way current filmmakers work and the contents of cinema textbooks.” She adds, “and for 23 years, we have asked film friends for their favorite ‘lost’ or unavailable films and tried to follow up to find those missing treasures.”

Doros, who was voted to the Board of Directors of the Association of Moving Image Archivists in 2008, notes that making connections with others in the field “[has] led to a lot of our acquisitions. We have experienced amazing generosity from our friends (especially with bonus features) that have greatly enhanced our love for the field – and our company’s reputation. The friends we have met and the support of the archives and archivists is really important to us.”  As a rule of thumb, Milestone preserves films that can be seen many times (“because that is what is required for successful distribution,” Heller says), that actively work as cinema (incorporating the tools of the camera, movement, sound, and editing), and that tell a story or retell history from an underrepresented viewpoint. “Films from the past often have an emotional and political power that is just amazing. I love when we can re-discover, restore and release films that still speak to audiences today,” Heller says.

Poster art for the Milestone restoration of Portrait of Jason

Poster art for the Milestone restoration of Portrait of Jason

Also important to distribution is selecting cover art for Milestone DVD releases, which are designed by Scott Meola of Simplissimus and Adrian Rothschild, the latter of whom recently designed the company’s Portrait of Jason poster. Heller notes, “I admit to being crazy about fonts and design – both offer extremely economical means of conveying a great deal about a film. We frequently consult our library of books of poster and design art from around the world to focus in on the style and typefaces from the time the film was made. Fortunately, our designers have always welcomed this kind of input and have worked with us to create title treatments and art that reflect the film’s content, style and time.”

Though Milestone employed up to six staff members during the 1990s, these days Doros and Heller are its only full-time employees. “A few years back, we realized that with the film industry shrinking, it was necessary to cut back so we could continue to distribute the films we loved and afford to properly restore them,” Doros notes, before adding, “the hours really suck.”

Milestone offers paid summer internships to students, some of whom continue to work for the company after graduation. “These terrific young people have brought great energy and expertise,” Heller says.  While Doros admits he’s not sure about the future of film preservation, he notes “there are many positive signs and that’s primarily the incredible students who are coming into the field these days. They have the training, the maturity and the knowledge that few of my generation or the previous generations had entering into film.”

Film-maker Shirley Clarke

Filmmaker Shirley Clarke

Currently, the two are working on preserving several American Indian films, including In  the Land of the Head Hunters, Daughter of Dawn and Sherman Alexie’s The Business of Fancydancing.  They are also working on the films of Barney Rosset (the founder of Grove Press) and Kathleen Collins, and are continuing work on Project Shirley, their series of restorations of Shirley Clarke’s films and unfinished works. “We’re always excited about the next project and we have a lot going on now,” Doros says.

Doros considers the company’s longevity its greatest achievement to date. “Many other distributors have come and gone and by working out of our house and keeping our salaries low, we’ve been able to contribute to the archives while making a living…we are fervent believers in promoting the work of the archives and archivists as well as the films they allow us distribute. Milestone still has a devotion to preserving film as film.”

~Kaitlin Conner

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The Punk Rock Archivist: Dino Everett, Archivist for the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive

This gallery contains 5 photos.

For many years, Dino Everett spent his time as a touring punk rock musician, but in the back of his mind were a love of movies and his grandfather’s stories of the silent films he had watched as a child … Continue reading

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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

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The Accidental Archivist: Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image Section, Library of Congress

Mike Mashon, Head of Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress

Mike Mashon, head of Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress

“I never really intended to be an archivist,” says Mike Mashon, after recounting his diverse educational background.  Mashon, the Head of Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress, received his undergraduate degree in Microbiology from Louisiana State University, going on to pursue a Master’s in the same field at the University of Texas. Working for the Texas Department of Health, he was the first person the organization ever hired to conduct research on AIDS.  Yet the longer he worked with science, the less he wanted to make it a career.

Mashon’s early involvement with what would eventually become the South by Southwest Festival, as well as his presence on the University of Texas Film Committee, rekindled his long-standing love of movies and television.  Earning a Master’s in Radio/TV/Film at Texas, he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1996, writing his thesis on the relationship between advertising agencies and television networks in the 1940s and 1950s.  After serving as curator at the Library of American Broadcasting, he became Curator of Moving Images for the Library of Congress in 1998, a position he held until being named the Head of the Moving Image Section in 2005.

The National Audio Visual Conservation Center

The National Audio Visual Conservation Center

At the National Audio Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC), Mashon oversees the cataloging, processing, physical integrity, storage and preservation of film and video, also conducting personnel management and setting goals and budgets for the fiscal year.  Mashon also attends National Film Preservation Board meetings, advising on which films will be added to the National Film Registry every year.  Although administrative work encompasses the majority of his duties (Mashon jokes he is a “mid-level government bureaucrat”), he is especially interested in outreach and access initiatives, particularly when it comes to the NAVCC’s online presence.

Since little moving image content has been added to the Library’s web site in the past decade, Mashon is working to expand the NAVCC’s web presence by creating a blog and making videos about the organization’s workflows operations.  He recently acquired an HD camera to start making informational videos about the preservation process at the NAVCC, following a film or tape through the entirety of the preservation process, with the finished product being the film itself available online.  Mashon notes that one of the goals of the NAVCC is to provide outreach services not only to the local community but to members of the archival field as well – these informational videos would undoubtedly be an excellent resource for fellow archivists.

With the Library of Congress beginning to change its web architecture, it is becoming increasingly efficient to get moving image content on the web.  Mashon spoke at length of the NAVCC’s more than 3,000 paper prints, which he deems “the crown jewel of our collection.”  Paper prints were used to establish copyright in the early days of cinema, between the years 1894-1912, and Mashon notes “[you] can’t really write a meaningful history of American film without referring to the paper prints.”  A number of the films in this collection have been transferred to other formats (16mm, 35mm), but only 500 of them – scans of 35mm reprints from the 1990s – are available online.  Mashon notes that the only way a person would be able to view the remaining 2,500 prints in the collection would be to go to Washington D.C. – his goal is to eventually have the entirety of the collection scanned for access, using technologies such as the MWA Vario to scan 16mm negatives in real-time.  Although the resulting files won’t be subjected to much digital cleanup other than speed correction, Mashon notes that the convenience of researchers not having to travel to D.C. makes this a worthy endeavor.

One of the paper prints held by the Library of Congress

One of the paper prints held by the Library of Congress

For those interested in film archiving work, Mashon advises that archivists starting out in the field need to be comfortable with digital technologies and metadata, as opportunities to use preservation experience skills will shrink over time. Many of the NAVCC technicians have degrees in library science rather than film preservation, emphasizing the importance of well-rounded skills.  Mashon remarks that while the physical work of film preservation requires no small amount of skill, cataloging conistently proves to be an enormous challenge.  Thus, a library science background will come in handy for the important task of information management.

Regarding the future of film preservation, Mashon remarks that he is slightly optimistic despite the inevitability of film stock production ceasing. He would like to see the creation of digital cinema packages at the NAVCC, noting that, while continuing to make prints would be ideal, only a handful of facilities would be able to screen these prints in the future.  One example is that of significant film-print restorations the NAVCC has undertaken, for films such as Baby Face and All Quiet on the Western Front.  While Mashon would like for audiences to be able to appreciate these films on the medium for which they were intended, he does not want to deny access to those facilities that may only be able to screen digital cinema packages.   “If you’re not going to make it available to people as widely as possible – you’re just going to shut it away in a dark archive – there’s hardly any point in doing it,” he adds.

Mashon finds his work fulfilling, and he is quick to note the hard work undertaken by his employees at the NAVCC:  “There’s nothing quite like being able to share the work of the Library of Congress with others. I’m always very humbled by that because I’m just representing the many wonderful people I work with who do the hands-on work.”

Perhaps most striking about Mashon is his passion about ensuring access for future generations of film lovers.  “Film, television and radio are such powerful communicative media that we feel that is definitely worth our best effort to make sure that it’ll be preserved for those future generations.”

~Kaitlin Conner

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