Category Archives: Programme

Janet Moat: Dopes, Quads and Plushes; a personal history of documenting the movies

Janet Moat, now retired British Film Institute [BFI] gave a history of collecting material that documents the movies.

Janet began by saying that although film is arguably the most accessible of art forms, film archives are conversely the least accessible of all archives.

The BFI is the national repository for film and has vast holdings of archive mostly acquired via voluntary donation. Growth of collection increased from the 1950s onwards,  and film donations were made by industry personnel. This process of random deposits led to an unsystematic collections process. From the 1970s onwards – film library and archive became dual collections.

The 1970s were the end of an era for many filmmakers/producers – and they began submitting personal papers in greater quantities. A film’s paper archive might include a sourcebook –but the most recognisable document is a script. Janet said that scripts are adorned with data, often illustrated or with notations (about budgeting, etc.). Dope sheets,  a document detailing who and/or what is required for each day of filming, might also survive. Sometimes film cells would be clipped to sheets and conservation of these could be problematic (especially for nitrate film). Quads (30”x40” posters), plushes (soft toys for marketing), and sheet music might also be deposited.

In order to make sense of the collections and to beging building coherent collections Janet looked to the US for techniques on management of material and found that arrangement followed the film production process. The final documentary stage of this process included gathering books about/supporting the film, and any critical reviews the film received. The BFI started to follow that practice – paper-based records would be kept together but the poster collection remained separate.

The BFI also acquired Granada’s cinema chain archive. This was a treasure trove of information – photographs of cinema buildings, publicity, serials, etc. A vanished world and a significant social history collection.

Dealing with voluntary donations – links to industry was strong initially but remained a reactive process. This meant acquisition was poor and relied on the selection of material by the depositor. A more proactive process was not welcomed by potential depositors who were uncertain of the BFI’s motive and a lack of belief in archival process. Buying archives was not something with which the BFI wished to be involved. The acquisition policy was to tell the story of british cinema and film through the documentary evidence. Gaps existed – studios had closed before archive set up. Consequently there is a low rate of survival of material.  Regional broadcasters – bankruptcies – material obtained via this manner.

Digital futures – digitising material copyright remains the single biggest issue with film archives. Clearing copyright takes time and resources. Who are your audiences? How do you provide access to a variety of users, is digital the be all?


The Society of Archivists Certificate in Archive Conservation: an introduction

The conservation strand of this year’s conference has been particularly strong. In particular, it was really interesting to hear from some of the current trainees on the Society’s conservation training programme.

Not only is it a good opportunity for us to hear about what techniques, tools and methods are being used in a wide range of workshops, it highlights the importance of passing on these skills and the roles played by trainees and instructors in an active office.

The scheme has been going on for 35 years now and survives on the goodwill and voluntary nature of the participant instructors. The course provides 1-2-1 specialist instruction and prepares conservator trainees for the demands of a multo-disciplinary profession.

Following an overview of the history of the certificate and how the programme is run we heard case studies from 3 of the current trainees.

Claire Armstrong (Nottinghamshire Archives) began by describing a paper repair project she’d recently completed using many of the skills she’d acquired from the training she’s received so far. As well as describing the work she’s undertaken Claire also highlighted the reasoning and discussion that precedes any repair work and continues to support the decision-making process as a repair is made. Claire also discussed the need to evaluate practical concerns, such as balancing limited time and budget, as well as ethical considerations, for instance; whether or not to replace a lost marbled cover on a stationery binding.

Rowenna Jones (Gwynedd Archives Service) provided a run-down of her work on a parchment document and, again, the skills and techniques she’s gathered during the traineeship. Rowenna focused on the three main subjects of documentation, tools and storage, as well as describing the skills and materials that had been involved in the repair.

Katie Jordan (West Yorkshire Archive Service) reported that she’s recently attended a placement with instructor, Jeff Cargill (Hertfordshire Archive & Local Studies) to learn skills associated with the repair of seals. Katie gave a brief resume of a project she’s been preparing for her portfolio which has a significant number of applied seals. She explained the decisions she’d taken to repair the damaged shellac seals and then described the 2 conservation treatments she had used to consolidate and stabilise the seals. Katie also commented on the pros and cons of each method and the range of tools she’d found useful.

As a trainee myself, this morning was particularly informative and it was great to hear from other trainees what they were gaining from the process and what they were putting into practice.

Catherine Dand (Borthwick Institute, University of York)

Copyright: What concerns you? What would you ask Tim Padfield?

Tim Padfield, a widely recognised expert in the field of copyright is speaking at the conference next Wednesday. Delegates will have an opportunity to ask him about various points of copyright law but also address issues that concern archivists coping with access to and dissemination of material in digital environments. If you were able to ask Tim a question regarding copyright and archives, what would it be? Post your questions as comments and hopefully Tim will be able to answer some of them!

Film screening added to the conference programme

We’ve planned an interesting mix of evening entertainment for delegates over the course of the conference.

On Tuesday night we have Mervyn Heard presenting his Victorian Lantern Slideshow, while on Thursday the Conference dinner at the Roman Baths and the Pump Rooms will enable delegates to take in the unique atmosphere and splendours of Bath.

We can  now announce that on Wednesday evening there will be a film screening by South West Film & Television Archive of a small selection of fascinating material held by them.

Based in Plymouth, SWFTA are responsible for collecting and preserving film and television material for an area that stretches from Gloucester in the north to the Isles of Scilly in the south-west. From farming to fishing, shipping to cider-drinking, industry to celebration; delegates will see films that document the changing landscapes and lives of the South-West region of England and its people.

Updated conference programme

An updated programme has been published on the Society of Archivists website. Additions to the programme include Professor Randall Jimerson, Head of the Graduate Archives and Records Management Programme at Western Washington University, who will be giving a keynote address entitled Archivists and the Call to Justice. We also have Dr Karen Gracy and George Oates providing a conference summary on Friday.

The Information Exchange programme is also taking shape with a mix of presentations and special interest group sessions and the Information Marketplace. Clive Billeness will also be giving a lunchtime demonstration of the PLANETS toolkit.

Why the title?

Fast Forward: access and preservation in a digital world…

At the beginning of 2008 the Film, Sound & Photography Group was invited to collaborate in creating this year’s conference programme and to devise a suitable theme that would not only encompass some of the issues that concern us  as audio-visual specialists but would also appeal to the wider archive, records management and conservation communities.

We settled on Fast Forward as a nod towards our audio-visual roots but also to convey the sense of change that the digital revolution has brought to our professions.

Digital technology is not unknown to our domain; we’re accomplished users of technology for description and outreach purposes and the capturing and preservation of digital records has been a significant issue in the world of archives and records management for some considerable time.

Digital technology has also transformed the world of audio-visual archives. The increasing demand for online content, the migration of material from analogue to digital, the digital transfer and restoration of older film and sound media and the constant development of new digital mediums and its subsequent preservation; audio-visual archives can be a difficult and confusing area in which to work.

The Digital Futures programme strand will look at some of the emerging areas in which audio-visual specialists, including archivists and conservators, are involved as well as exploring key areas of copyright, preservation and access. Many of the sessions in the programme transcend audio-visual archives and should be of interest to the wider archives and records management community. Thursday’s sessions focus on using digital technologies and the Internet to reach new audiences, create new archive material, and to serve community interests. The programme will also include presentations about continuing professional development and debate the endeavours necessary to ensure archivists and conservators are equipped with the right balance of skills to deal with the ever-growing body of audio-visual material.

As part of Wednesday’s Information Exchange delegates will have an opportunity to meet members of the Film, Sound & Photography Group to discuss audio-visual archives and receive advice.

The Film, Sound & Photography group hope that the Digital Futures programme strand that it has devised will provide an exciting, informative and ultimately, useful insight into the realm of audio-visual archives and beyond.

Martin Devereux