Archives



THE PROFESSIONALIZATION OF FILM ARCHIVES

In the late 1960s, with the development in the United States of government funding sources for preservation through the National Endowment for the Arts and the growth of local, regional, and television archives, a sea change occurred in the US archival community. While moving image preservation had previously been handled by only a few nitrate-holding archives, including George Eastman House, UCLA Film and Television Archives, MoMA, and the Library of Congress Motion Picture Division, literally dozens of new archives were founded in the following years, making the need for a North American organization apparent. Suddenly a host of regional archives, archives of special collections (dance film, for example), and television news archives appeared on the scene. What had been a loose organization of film and television archives at the end of the 1970s, the Film Archives Advisory Committee/Television Archives Advisory Committee (FAAC/TAAC) was formalized into a new organization, the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), founded in 1990. Unlike FIAF, which was based on institutional membership, AMIA

Henri Langlois.

became an organization of individual archivists and other persons engaged in film and television preservation, including commercial laboratories, the major studios, and stock shot houses. By 2003, membership had grown to nearly one thousand, with yearly conferences, a newsletter, archival education, scholarships, a journal, and an Internet Listserv as a part of its mandate. The organization has also expanded from a strictly North American organization of archivists to one with members from all over the world. As a result of these structural changes, the field of film and video preservation has matured from a group of individual collectors into a discipline with standards and sanctioned practices.

While films and videos were often stored in substandard environments, film/video archivists now attempt to maintain strict standards for climate control and vault safety. By the late 1980s, it became increasingly clear that both acetate and nitrate materials benefited from extremely low humidity and very cold environments. The lifespan of nitrate film, for example, could be doubled by lowering the ambient temperature in a vault by 5 degrees and the humidity by 5 percent. Storage suddenly became the first line of defense for preservation, not the transfer of images to newer film stocks, making the 1970s slogan "Nitrate Can't Wait" an anachronism. At the same time, the Library of Congress and other institutions developed cataloging standards for moving image materials, while the archives themselves began the massive project of properly cataloging their holdings. Finally, most archives discontinued the old policy of sending out "unprotected" prints (materials that had not been preserved) for screenings. Instead, preservation priorities were often formulated based on the need for public access to given titles.

Making all this possible was regularized funding. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was created in the United States in September 1965 through an act of Congress. Based on a recommendation from the Stanford Research Institute, in June 1967 the NEA formally awarded a 1.3 million dollar grant for the establishment of an American Film Institute (AFI), which furthermore received matching grants from the Ford Foundation and the Motion Picture Association of America. Based on the model of the British Film Institute, the AFI's mandate was to support the production of quality films, train filmmakers, and foster the preservation of American film. From the start, the AFI's role was not actually to preserve film, but to act as a conduit for collecting films and funding archives, such as the Library of Congress and George Eastman House. Essentially, the AFI became a regrant agency for NEA film preservation funds, while taking an allowable 30–35 percent cut for administrative overhead. And while the archives received a total of more than 10.5 million dollars for film preservation between 1968 and 1972, the AFI's overhead costs took an ever bigger bite out of funding so that by 1972 film preservation accounted for a mere 9 percent of its expenditures. The NEA continued funding the archives through the 1970s and 1980s, but its funding levels remained at about 350,000–450,000 dollars despite inflationary costs for film preservation due to increased laboratory costs.

While the NEA discontinued funding moving image archives in the early 1990s, other organizations took up the challenge. As early as the late 1980s, the American Film Institute's campaign "Nitrate Won't Wait" had increased public consciousness about the need to save and preserve the precious moving image heritage. Through the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, Congress established a National Film Preservation Board and created a National Film Registry (twenty-five titles are added each year by the Librarian of Congress), which identifies "national film treasures." The initial impetus for the act was the concern over the commercial treatment of classic films, including re-editing to fit television time slots, panning and scanning to fit the television screen, and electronic colorization of black-and-white materials.

The National Film Preservation Board consists of appointed representatives from virtually all of the medium's professional organizations, including the Society of Cinema and Media Studies, the Screen Actors Guild, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the National Society of Film Critics. The reauthorization of the board in 1992 asked the Library of Congress to complete a study of the state of film preservation, Film Preservation 1993 , which in turn led to the founding of the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) in 1999. The NFPF, which was reappropriated by Congress in April 2005, is now funding film preservation projects at a national level through direct government monies and grants from private foundations and companies. While the National Film Registry's titles are overwhelmingly culled from mainstream Hollywood's output, the NFPF mandate is to fund only so-called orphan films (films that were never copyrighted or have entered the public domain). As a result, many previously marginalized films and film genres, including amateur films, industrial films, educational films, medical films, avant-garde films, and silent films are being preserved.

The 1990s also saw a number of private foundations become involved in the preservation of films, including the Film Foundation (founded by Martin Scorsese [b.1942] in 1992), and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, both of which have shown a preference for classic Hollywood cinema. Meanwhile, the major film studios, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Universal Studios have redoubled their own preservation efforts, at least of materials on which they own copyright or which they are planning to rerelease in digital formats. In 1997, the Librarian of Congress commissioned another study to look at the state of television preservation, Television and Video Preservation 1997: A Report on the Current State of American Television and Video Preservation . Seven years later, the National Television and Video Preservation Foundation (NTVPF) was finally established, albeit without the participation of Congress or the Library of Congress, which had initially funded the NFPF. Instead, Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), and Jim Lindner, a video preservationist, have made initial cash donations, while video laboratories have offered in-kind services. The NTVPF has thus secured preservation services valued at over 350,000 dollars from preservation sponsors for an initial round of grants.

In Europe, major national archives have continued to dominate film preservation of fiction features, but smaller regional archives have developed in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany that target amateur, newsreel, and documentary films. In the UK, for example, while the British Film Institute Film Archive has floundered due to four major reorganizations in less than a decade, North West Film Archive, the Scottish Screen Archive, and the East Anglian Film Archive, among others, have taken the initiative, establishing the Film Archive Forum in 1987.

Meanwhile, in 1991, several European film archives founded the Association des Cinémathèques de la Communauté Européenne (ACCE) and launched the Projet LUMIÈRE (LUMIERE Project) with support from the European MEDIA I Program. Projet LUMIÈRE focused on three main activities: the restoration of European films, the search for "lost" European films, and the compilation of a European filmography. More than one thousand films, mostly dating from the silent era, were restored through interarchival cooperation. The national filmographies of all European Union countries, which in some cases had to be created from scratch, were compiled in a single database. That was followed by the establishment of the Association des Cinémathèques Européennes (ACE) through MEDIA II in 1996, as well as of Archimedia, which was initiated the same year within the framework of the European MEDIA Plus program. Archimedia aims to establish a network of archives and universities throughout the European Union and has funded seminars and symposia on new digital media, film archives training programs, film festivals, and preservation. Meanwhile, film festivals, like the Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, Italy) and Cinema Ritrovato (Bologna) have focused attention on film archives and preservation.



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