Tag Archives: Film Sound & Photography Group

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?

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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