Archives at Work
Film Archives UK takes a look behind the scenes of our film archives and finds out more about the people who work at the film archives and the variety of their roles. In this fast moving, digital age, it is important that our film is both preserved and made available and the archives are also sustained as a business to service research and footage sales. By reporting from the archives around the UK, ARCHIVES AT WORK will focus on this very special industry, the people involved and the valuable work they do to keep our archives alive.
FAUK aims to feature as many people as possible from our Member archives across the UK – Please get in touch if you would like to be featured in ARCHIVES AT WORK – firstname.lastname@example.org
PETER RYDE, Archivist and Founder of Lincolnshire Film Archive
What is your role at the Archive? I inspect all incoming film. Clean, repair and prep it up for digitisation. Afterwards prepare and label it for vault storage. I research the subject matter as necessary and index its content. My role also covers maintenance of accession records and Catalogue entries, handling
enquiries and doing searches for requested material. I arrange film show bookings and plan the programmes. I also assist in running ‘The Friends of LFA’ supporters’ group.
How long have you been at this organisation? 33 years
How did your career develop? I have worked in film since 1953 and later on became an independent part-time maker of promotional and educational films, shooting, editing, track laying, neg cutting, pretty well everything except for the labwork. I have written numerous technical articles on film-making and sound recording for Fountains Press and others. I also worked as a History teacher, but had to take early retirement owing to ill-health. Seeking a new role, I was encouraged by David Cleveland* to ‘do something’ about archive film of Lincolnshire, which then had no such facility, lying between EAFA and YFA but served by neither. So that’s what I did!
What experience have you gained over the years?
A lifetime (since age 15) of working in many aspects of film gives you not only knowledge and experience but a valuable, though hard to define, ‘sixth sense’ that prompts you think (about a date, for example) ‘That can’t be right’, even though you may not quite know why. Also, I still had all my lab contacts, and in the early days got much valuable help and advice from David Cleveland.
I didn’t ‘get’ the job. It got me. At David’s instigation I set up the LFA in 1986, and in its early days I had to do everything myself.
What attracted you to the industry? Interest in History had already made me concerned about local archive film, and David made me feel that with lengthy experience and with time on my hands I was well, (perhaps even uniquely well), placed to get archive film work going in Lincolnshire.
What’s the best part of your work? After prolonged restoration work, presenting the film on screen for the first time in front of an audience and (hopefully) hearing their delighted reactions.
and challenges? – Yes, finance!
What’s your favourite footage or best ‘discovery’ to date?
The oldest known film of Lincolnshire (c 1901) arrived as a tangle of loose coils stuffed into a supermarket carrier bag. Our hearts sank at the first sight of it, but once we realised what it was, Oh My! Also, after being given the only surviving print (on nitrate) of an important film and finding that it had already decayed beyond recovery, miraculously we found the original picture and track negs in good condition a couple of years later.
How much has your work had to adapt to the changes and development in the industry? Until c 2000 all our film shows were presented on 16mm film. In those days I made 16mm blow ups in house from 8mm and 9.5mm, using printers I built myself, because the results were better than the rather slapdash work done by the labs. Also, the high cost of all lab prints limited our show repertoire. Thanks to the huge advances made in electronic scanning and projection, those early labours and problems are a thing of the past, so, from many points of view that aspect of the work is now much easier, and the on-screen results are much better. But typical work on the original films we accession remains the same, although as film has largely gone out of use we increasingly depend on improvisation and in-house engineering work to produce or repair various items of equipment.
How do you see the future of the film archives and/or preservation?
Like most colleagues, we are concerned at the way in which systems for storing material in electronic form are continually being superseded by others, creating the risk that material stored in older systems may become impossible to access. Fixing a standard is resisted because it could inhibit further improvements, but I do feel that much more attention needs to be paid to backwards compatibility.
The danger period for archive preservation is the point at which material is too old to be of current interest, especially to the young, but not yet old enough to be of interest to everyone. Last week’s newspaper just gets thrown away, whereas a 200 year old newspaper is an acknowledged treasure. But how do you ensure that it survives? We do need to look to the long term in what we do.
*David Cleveland was the Founder of the East Anglian Film Archive at UEA, the first of the regional film archives.
STEVE WHITE, Studio Manager, Lincolnshire Film Archive
What is your role at the Lincolnshire Film Archive?
A varied role covering film telecine, grading and video editing, the supply of digital files to broadcasters/professional users, management of the digital media archive and undertaking of weekly film shows to local community groups and the public.
How long have you been at this organisation? – 20+ years
Career history – (the path to your current role)? I trained as a television and video engineer before working in professional and broadcast media production industries for the last 30 years.
Experience/qualifications? HNC in radio, television and digital principals.
What attracted you to the industry? I started film making on 8mm film while a boy before moving into professional video production in the early 90s and more recently high and ultra definition video.
Best part of your work? Using state of the art equipment to digitally restore old film
Favourite footage? Wartime and farming films.
How much has your work had to adapt to the changes and development in the industry? We are constantly improving and using modern digital techniques and systems to improve the work flow.
How do you see the future of the film archives and/or preservation? I sometimes wonder whether a day will come when all of the motion picture films that were ever taken will be in preservation. But having just worked on a film from the 1930s which was received and accessioned in 2019, I think that day is probably still a long way off.
LENKA SUCHA, Digital Archive Assistant, London’s Screen Archives
What is your role at LSA?
I look after LSA’s online presence, which covers a variety of different tasks, and I also present indoor and outdoor community screenings.
How long have you been at the archive?
I started at the end of July 2016.
Career history – (what path did you take to your current job at the archive?)
Before my current position, I completed a 4-month internship at the National Film Archive in Prague in the amateur & home movie department. I inspected and catalogued various amateur collections and helped with the digitisation and restoration of an 8mm Czech avant-garde film. I also got involved in promoting the local Home Movie Day by editing a short promotional film and writing a post-event blog post. The best part was being able to sit in on various departmental meetings and getting an insight into the inner workings of a national heritage institution. It was a great experience.
Experience/qualifications? and how did you get the job?
I did a BA in Film and Media at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, and then studied for an MA in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam. During my studies and time at LSA, I’ve also had the opportunity to visit or undertake short placements at various archives, including the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, the FIAF office in Brussels, the Scottish Moving Image Archive, History of Advertising Trust and IWM. Everyone I’ve contacted has been incredibly helpful. As for my current job, I had signed up to the LSA newsletter a while back, and was excited to see a Digital Film Archive Intern vacancy advertised in June 2016. I sent in my application and the rest is history.
What attracted you to the industry?
It started with a broad interest in films and history from a young age, and then later the realisation that film archives represent a perfect overlap of the two. Especially amateur films often go unappreciated, even though they record very important aspects of social history and provide a more immediate connection to the past for a wide range of people. I’m just keen on passing on my passion for film heritage and the value it holds.
Describe the work involved in a typical day (if no day the same then tell us variety of work involved in)
The online-based part of my role involves updating the website, delivering our monthly newsletter, and posting on behalf of LSA on the Film London twitter channel. I also moderate, publish and respond to online comments, answer footage queries, write short blog posts and articles for the website and select our Film of the Month for Youtube.
In preparation for a community venue screening, I’ll edit a compilation programme relevant specifically to the borough or the event, and research the films I’ll be presenting. I also attend outdoor screenings with our mobile cinema KinoVan where I chat to the audience, explain LSA’s role and aims and encourage further film donations to help preserve and diversify London’s screen heritage.
What’s the best part of your work?
Speaking to people that come to the screenings, listening to their stories and the memories that the films brought back, their positive response to the films. Kids come up with the most unexpected (and sometimes unintentionally hilarious) observations! We also receive touching online comments, which occasionally result in an extended email exchange while I try to find out more about the individual’s connection to the film, its maker or location. I also love a good discovery, whether it’s a film donation brought about by pure coincidence, or when all the clues and pieces come together and suddenly there’s an exciting background story to be shared on our website.
What challenges are there?
Lack of time. In an ideal world, I’d love to be able to carry out in-depth research about our films to help enrich the catalogue, as well as spend more time on creative engagement with our material. As a small team, we’re doing what we can, and I’ve seen incredible progress during my time at LSA which is rewarding and encouraging.
How different is the work here in the UK compared to that in the other European cities you have worked in?
Even within the European Union, there are big differences in priorities, public appreciation of, and the state’s involvement/funding/interest in film archives. As for the British archive industry, on one hand it has a long history and there are established, respected institutions that have been at the forefront of the field for decades, ensuring audiovisual heritage remains relevant. On the other hand (and bearing in mind my experience is rather recent and limited) the UK industry comes across as slightly more inward-looking and self-orientated. There seems to be more collaboration and sharing between the archives on the continent, a stronger flow of information and knowledge. But again, this isn’t universally the case across Europe – I’d say it’s limited to a small number of select institutions.
We recently acquired a large collection donated by the daughter of a talented amateur filmmaker, which (amongst other exciting items) includes a short silent 16mm film of Winston Churchill in colour. It was filmed in 1945 in Wanstead during Churchill’s General Election campaign and includes incredible close-up shots for an amateur film. This discovery really stands out in recent memory.
How much has the work of film archives changed and in what way?
Being rather new to the world of film archives, my knowledge is purely theoretical. The general impression I have is that archives have steadily been becoming more open and accessible, but are also heavily affected by budget cuts and chasing funding seems to be more difficult than it has perhaps been in the past.
How do you see the future of the film archives?
It’s vital for film archives to keep improving access, especially in regards to various marginalised groups, as well as reaching out and engaging in cross-institutional projects. I’d like to see film heritage incorporated more directly into education to help ensure its value will be understood and appreciated by future generations. I also think there’s great potential for film archives to engage in research projects, especially in the digital domain.
Thank you to Lenka Sucha
FAUK Meets –
Film Archive Officer
Footage of the stolen trawler ‘The Girl Pat’ being returned to Portsmouth. It’s a tiny snippet of very dark film, at the end of a longer film – which on first glance, looks very little.
The Girl Pat herself, abandoned at Demerara and with her owners now reimbursed for her loss, remained as a loose end, and some who had been diverted by the saga formed a syndicate to bring her home. The Captain for the journey home was Commander R W Lawrence, ex-navigator of submarine E14.
Such was the interest in the saga, that 500 applicants applied for positions in the crew. The Girl Pat made her way home after reconditioning and being fitted with wireless. On the 9th of May 1937, thirteen months after leaving Grimsby, the Girl Pat arrived in Portsmouth for paying off, having crossed the Atlantic in 11 days, 19 hours. The footage we hold shows the Captain, and crew coming into harbour at Portsmouth.
STACEY ANDERSON, Executive Director and Archivist, South West Film & Television Archive/SWFTA, Plymouth.
What is your role? My primary responsibility at SWFTA is to oversee the strategic development of the archive which includes: management of staff and collections, media relations and promotion, curation and outreach, funding and budgets, partnerships and projects, social media and the website.
How long have you been at the archive? Since December 2012
Career history? I was appointed Executive Archive Director in December 2012. As a qualified Archivist – the first in SWFTA’s history – I have over 13 years experience of working in and managing a variety of traditional and specialist media and digital archive services in the region: Firstly as a Volunteer, Project Cataloguing Officer and Archive Assistant with Plymouth & West Devon Record Office (2003-2005); a Records Management Analyst with Cornwall County Council (2006); an Archive Assistant at Cornwall Record Office with a part time secondment as a Documentation Officer at the Courtney Library (Royal Cornwall Museum) from 2006-2007; and as the Founding Archivist and Manager of the celebrated South West Image Bank (2007-2012).
Experience/qualifications? A BA(Hons) in History (2002), a Post Graduate Degree in Archive Administration (2008) and is currently undertaking registration with the accredited body for Archive professionals; the Archives and Records Association (formally the Society of Archivists) as well as membership with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).
The trustees were looking for someone to manage the collections at SWFTA and to develop opportunities for projects and partnerships. Given my background with SWiB and working within the regional heritage sector, they interviewed and subsequently appointed me to pick up the challenge!
What attracted you to the industry? A life-long love for history. Following university, I knew I wanted to work within the heritage sector, working alongside raw historic collections and alongside that inspiring knowledge that shines through those who have developed careers in heritage. I started as a volunteer, like most of my contemporaries, and my passion simply grew from that really. Kept a look out for any job opportunity, temporary or otherwise. After a few years of that, I secured a unique opportunity to set up and develop a specialist archive from scratch. The rest is as they say history!
Describe the work involved in a typical day:
- Attending and contributing to key strategic partner meetings (pretty much on a daily basis) particularly with the Plymouth History Centre partners as there are many work streams SWFTA is a member of each with their own lead and meeting schedule. We’re also a member of the Project Programme Board which I attend monthly.
- Updating Twitter, Facebook and the website to sustain audience interest and facilitate engagement.
- Feeding into the social media campaigns of project partners with digitised content.
- Depositor relations, following up on depositor or client requests.
- Assigning research tasks to the volunteers.
- Assigning footage requests to the technical team.
- Meeting with internal UFH colleagues to catch up on project delivery
- Following up on regional project engagements, telephone or email catch up with project collaborators/partners.
Challenges? Funding and time. Funding is always a concern. SWFTA is a charity dependant on funds from GiA and earned income streams. It’s hard not to be anxious about the sustainability of that. There’s not enough time sometimes to do everything. I have several ‘to do’ lists which help me manage time effectively. This can be a little stressful at times however.
Favourite footage? The Endicott collection. 1930s-1950s beautiful insight into the region captured by amateur film-maker (Butcher) Claude Endicott. Simply fabulous and so raw, no scripts, no gloss, no stage, just the people, places and lifestyles of the region as it was then.
How much has the work of film archives changed and in what way? We’ve become more outward looking I think in recent years and that has changed the way we operate to a degree in terms of the variety of enquiries we receive for footage etc. Aside from having to be more outward – as is the case with most heritage organisations these days – it is an entirely positive change. I relish the opportunities, collaborations and partnerships that have come through that sense of stepping out from the archive. It’s all really exciting and has given the archive a strong profile that we didn’t necessarily have before.
How do you see the future of the film archives? Ongoing partnerships and collaborations are essential I think to all of us. The collections must be accessible, they must be properly recorded, usable and of course preserved. We can achieve that most effectively if we all work together towards that shared goal, with resource behind us to drive us forward.
Thank you to Stacey Anderson
MIKE BREWIS Senior Technician at the South West Film & Television Archive / SWFTA , Plymouth
What is your role? My primary responsibility at SWFTA is to oversee the equipment maintenance coupled with research, editing and clip production for broadcast and DVD production for public, community and project requests.
How long have you been at the archive? The Archive was set up in January 1993 and I joined as staff in October 1993.
Career history ? I started work in 1982 for Television South West as a Film Traffic Librarian and set up the Video News library in 1986. TSW lost the franchise at the end of 1992, I then volunteered and did holiday relief work in the Archive. In October 1992 I was taken on as a part time researcher/technician and Project Manager. In 2012 I was appointed as Technician.
Experience/qualifications? Qualifications none, I bring to the Archive 45 years’ experience working in Cinema management, Television libraries and Archive work.
How did you get your job? I got my position at SWFTA via volunteering and my knowledge of the core collection
What attracted you to the industry? I worked as a cinema manager for ten years and when made redundant I applied to TSW.
Describe the work involved in a typical day For me, my role involves:
- Checking and emptying the vault dehumidifiers
- Dealing with any new footage requests
- Researching, editing footage and providing to clients
- Any maintenance to equipment I can carry out in house or sourcing outside engineers .
- Overseeing research tasks given to the volunteers.
A typical day for me, apart from the above depends on reacting to the problems thrown up by the day to day running of the Archive.
Best part of your work?
- Viewing footage from the collections –It’s always a pleasure and the buzz you get finding that gem you were not expecting.
- Working with people, particularly the volunteers, from other backgrounds
Challenges? Equipment and time. The equipment needed to run the Archive forms its own ‘museum’, the main challenge is maintaining this equipment and sourcing spare parts.
Favourite footage? The Major Gill collection. 1920s-1930s. Shot in Cornwall, he captured the life and times of the people and Cornwall as it was, as he realised that it was all starting to change.
Best discovery? Best discovery was the “Nazi in Russia” film showing workers and forced labour, and the officers relaxing in southern Russia. Jeffery collection.
How much has the work of film archives changed and in what way? We started off as a news Archive working mainly with ITV, BBC and other broadcasters but as the public has found out they can deposit family films and have film shows themed to their area we work more in this area. Also the partnerships with education and museums has increased
How do you see the future of the film archives? More and more work in partnerships with museums and other outlets and if funding more equipment is not found less and less of this fantastic resource will be lost
Thank you to Mike Brewis
LARA REID Senior Administrator, Media Archive for Central England (MACE), University of Lincoln
What is your role? I look after all the financial and general administration of the organisation. I deal with a wide variety of footage enquiries ranging from members of the public to commercial footage requests. I am also involved in clearing copyright as and when required for projects and supplying footage.
Career history ? Over the past 20 years, I have worked in a wide variety of roles in customer service and administration in both commercial and not for profit sectors. Prior to joining MACE, I was involved in running a small business for 9 years, primarily looking after the financial administration, marketing and HR.
How did you get your job? I applied for the position at MACE as I had the relevant skills and experience needed. My previous roles in administration and running a small business were particularly relevant as well as being an excellent team player!
What attracted you to the industry? Having never worked in a film archive before, I was interested in learning more about the industry and fascinated to discover more about 70,000 strong collection of films held at MACE.
Describe the work involved in a typical day: I always start my day with a cup of tea and my task list! I like to be organised in planning and prioritising my workload. Most days I deal with a number of emails from new or ongoing enquiries, I will also raise sales invoices and keep up to date with book-keeping and payments.
Best part of your work? I find it very rewarding when we are able to meet the needs of our customers looking for a particular piece of footage. Members of the public are extremely grateful when we can supply them with footage which has some personal significance to them, such as family members featuring in the film. Boring as it may seem to some people, I also get a lot of satisfaction from the financial administration and ‘balancing the books’.
Challenges? Clearing copyright on titles we hold can sometimes present a number of issues. Trying to establish ‘who’ owns the copyright of a title we hold is sometimes the first hurdle and then we start a process of trying to track the right person down and make contact with them.
Favourite footage? My preference is home movies as I feel they capture so much about the person behind the camera and what was important to them, quite often children and animals! I love to see how people dressed in times gone by and the kind of activities families would engage in when they didn’t have TV or computers to occupy their time!
Best discovery? Without a doubt my best discovery was tracing a lady who appeared in a wedding film, taken 50 years ago. MACE had been working on a Heritage lottery funded project to preserve a number of films made by Warners, the Wolverhampton based production company. Amongst the collection was a professionally made wedding film, fortunately containing inter-titles with the bride and grooms names. I was able to trace the bride, who shared a fascinating story and had in fact, never seen her own wedding film. Providing her with a digital copy was such a pleasure, especially knowing how precious and personal it was to her to be able to see it and share these moving memories with her children and grandchildren.
How do you see the future of the film archives? I believe in order to secure the long term future of regional film archives, we must seek ways in which to be more self-sustaining and less reliant on funding.
Thank you to Lara