Wednesday 13 January 2010

Huntley Film Archives and Skillset course on 'Film Archive Collections: a practical management guide'

Given that the Huntley Film Archive have begun advertising their Spring course on 'Film Archive Collections - a Practical management Guide' I thought it was high time I got round to posting notes on my experience of this course in November 2009. I would highly recommend this course to anyone involved in, or interested in a career in, film archives.

View of the Huntley Film Archive

Huntley Film Archives and Skillset will be holding a five day residential course in the UK on “Film Archive Collections : a practical management guide”

This intensive and very hands on course will help you evaluate, manage and utilise moving image collections to be held on Sunday 18th April to Friday 23rd April 2010

Whether you are looking to develop a career in film archiving, or you’ve got a collection and want to exploit it, this is the course for you.

By the end of the course, you will be able to :

- assess and evaluate archive film and other moving image collections

- learn how to handle all formats and gauges

- develop a preservation plan, address cataloguing issues and copying

- utilise and exploit those collections for the broadcast, education and other creative media

For more information, a full timetable and booking form

+ 44 (0) 1981 241 580

Working with the Lindsay Anderson Collection has really fuelled and intensified my passion for film (unsurprisingly) and has made me determined to continue my career in the realm of film archives. So in November of last year I jumped at the opportunity to attend a residential training course at the Huntley Film Archives, near Hereford. Entitled 'Film Archives: a practical management guide' the course was absolutely full of useful, practical and interesting education and training. I really couldn't overemphasise how friendly and welcoming Amanda and John Huntley, Caroline Jenkins and the guest tutors were.

I've been meaning to write about the week for ages now but had a wee bit of a hiatus from the blog in December - partly due to lots of work, but also enjoying being away from a computer over the Christmas holidays! So, I thought this was the perfect time to write about the week at Huntley Film Archives as they are now advertising for their Spring course - which I would recommend to anyone interested in working in the field of audiovisual archives, or indeed to anyone interested in film who would like to gain more of an understanding of the issues of preservation and access.

After an epic train journey from Glasgow to Leamington Spa, then Leamington Spa to Hereford on the Sunday I arrived in Hereford in the dark. I was met at the station by Robert Dewar and, along with two other participants on the course, Rachael and David P, we set off for the Archives. Driving deep into the countryside we pulled up outside a beautiful big house, I couldn't believe that as well as learning about something that I'm passionate about, I was also going to get to spend a week in such lovely surroundings! There were eight of us on the course and the week started with a dinner in the local pub on the Sunday evening - the perfect opportunity for us to get to know each other. There were a variety of reasons people were doing the course, and a range of levels of experience of working with moving image archives.

Monday morning started with a very interesting talk by Amanda Huntley on the history of film and television from it's beginnings right up to the present day. This was followed by a tour of the vault and a discussion of the various gauges and formats used in the film industry. We then got some practical experience in how to identify types of film gauges and tape formats, how to identify nitrate film and how to date films. The afternoon session was taken by Richard Shenton from MACE (Media Archive for Central England) where we looked at the history of sounds and colour in films, as well as having a workshop in how to identify different sounds formats and colour processes. When I first read the timetable and noticed that the archive will be open 7-10 every night I remember thinking - that's a bit much! Indeed we discussed it on the first evening there and the general consensus was we'd be too full of information by the end of the day to go back in the evening. However, guess what, every single night after dinner, we would find ourselves back in the archive, asking more questions and getting more valuable experience of using the Steenbecks. The second day started with a hands-on session of using the Steenbecks - very intimidating but, knowing that we had expert guidance, we all really enjoyed it!

Rachael using a Steenbeck

David S. using a Steenbeck

Me (Kathryn Mackenzie) using a Steenbeck

Tuesday continued with a very useful afternoon class on preservation and restoration. We learned about the dangers of incorrect storage, we saw how films should be stored, and we had a go at removing mould from films. In the evening there was a film show which was great fun, and really interesting. A number of people had brought along films from their archives and Amanda and Robert had some from the Huntley Archive and we had a lovely evening of watching films, chatting and drinking wine!

On Wednesday we looked at film archives from the perspective of the television producer and television researcher. For someone with no experience in a commercial film archives this was all new to me, but all expertly explained by Amanda Huntley and the guest speaker, Steve Humphries. Then Wednesday afternoon was devoted to cataloguing - my favourite job! That isn't sarcasm at all, I really do love cataloguing, it's what I spend most of my time doing. However in cataloguing films, as opposed to film-related records, found that the style of description used and the types of information that are recorded varied significantly from the work that I do. For this reason alone it was a very valuable afternoon, but it was also just a lot of fun to get 'let loose' with real films and get a chance to catalogue.

Thursday morning Amanda Huntley led a very informative session on exploiting your film archive. Although at present i don't work in an archive dealing with films I still found this a useful session and feel that I learnt a lot about the different types of uses of film archives, and the way to get the most out of your archive. Thursday afternoon we got some expert advice from Belinda Harris, a Director of All Rights Clearance. This was pretty eye-opening stuff on the costs of copyright clearance, although the minefield that is copyright law is a familiar issue for archivists in any realm.

Friday was an overview of the week and some very helpful expert advice for each of us on our next step in furthering our careers. All the experts and teachers on the course were so helpful and friendly. The welcome from Amanda Huntley, Robert Dewar and Caroline Jenkins made us all feel instantly comfortable and able to ask questions and the informal evening sessions were of great benefit. Oh, and I couldn't write about the Huntley Film Archive without including a photograph of the Llama's - just one more aspect of the course that made it so enjoyable!

New additions to University of Stirling Archives and Special Collections Flickr site

I thought I'd pick a few personal favourites from the most recent images to be uploaded to our University of Stirling Archives and Special Collections Flickr site. These three are all images from the University Special Collections.

This first one is perhaps the most evocative for me, both in the beautiful illustration and the wonderfully long title of the book - Farthest North: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship «Fram», 1893-1896, and of a Fifteen Months' Sleigh Journey by Dr. Nansen and Lt. Johansen (London: George Newnes Ltd, 1898, 2 vols). The image and the title together entice you in, urging you to investigate further and read of their adventures. For me it conjures up dreams of adventure and mystery in a far off land. I read up a bit more about Fridtjof Nansen, the author of the book, and the adventurer and Zoologist of the journey described in the book. As well as carrying out groundbreaking research in Greenland and the North Pole Nansen also had time in his life to fit in enough good deeds to earn him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. In 1917 - 1918 he negotiated a relaxation of the Allied blockade to allow shipments of essential food to get through, he was heavily involved in the repatriation of prisoners of war and in 1921 at the behest of the Red Cross he directed the relief for millions of Russians during the 1921-1922 Russian famine, even though as this time, help for the Russian =s was looked on with a great deal of suspicion. You can read more about him on his biography page at the Nobel Prize website.

Photograph of Fridtjof Nansen © the website of the Nobel Prize

The next image is a plate from another book with a wonderful title - Beautiful birds in far-off lands. Written by two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Kirby who together wrote a number of botany and natural history books for children and general readers during the 1840s to 1860s.

The final image is the title page of Illustrations of Himalayan plants by Joseph Dalton. As a child I used to love pouring over the illustrations in my mum's books on British Wildflowers, and Birds of the British Isles. I would sit and look at them for hours, and spent a lot of time drawing reproductions of the images. Asides from this image being a lovely illustration I think the real reason I like it so much is the memories it brings back of happy times spent with my mum - memories to cherish and keep me going when I miss her too much.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

The Infinity of Lists

Happy New Year to all!

Everywhere you look at the moment there are lists - lists of the best films of the noughties, best albums, books etc etc. I love reading lists, and the abundance of them in all forms of media shows that I'm clearly not alone in this. However I'd never really considered list-making (something I also love and find great satisfaction in doing) as a quest for immortality, or a means of blotting out our inevitable decline and death. Hmmn, maybe not such a cheery way to start the New Year after all!

The need and desire to classify, order, and arrange things/objectives/actions/animals/concepts is common throughout the world, in time and space. It's also fun, and satisfying - I like nothing better than a list of 'things to do' that I can then go through and score out as I achieve my goals, or a list of 'top 30 films of the decade (as in Sight and Sound this month) that makes me want to rush out and buy all the films so I can debate the merits of the list.

The concept of lists as a way of denying our mortality is something that is explored in an exhibition currently showing at the Louvre. 'Mille e tre' (the infinity of lists) organised by Umberto Eco examines the development of the concept of a list through history and examines how its meaning changes with the passage of time. In a fascinating interview with Der Spiegel, Eco discusses the idea of lists as a means of attempting to define or grasp infinity and things that are inexpressible. Eco - "The list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order -- not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries." Later in the interview he goes further than this, when he is asked why people waste so much time trying to complete things that can't be realistically completed, his answer - "We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die.

I wonder if I'll find many lists in the Lindsay Anderson Archive? I haven't come across many yet, just a few brief notes on the backs of letters, phone so-and-so, reply to this etc - not really full blown lists. But then the whole nature of the collection, the fact it was so well organised whilst he was alive, illustrates his desire for classification, for order.

Myself, one of my New Year's resolutions was 'make more lists' - a resolution I'll take great satisfaction in sticking to!

N.B. Thanks to The House Next Door for notice of this exhibition, and in general, for a really fascinating and fun blog