Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums, and the Digital Marketplace

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums, and the Digital Marketplace

Article excerpt

Spurred by a shifting cultural and technological landscape, four preeminent film archivists and curators came together to candidly discuss the future of the film-archiving field in a series of conversations spanning two years and four continents. The Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum) and thefestival Le Giornate del Cinema Muto have jointly published the provocative discussions of Paolo Cherchi Usai, David Francis, Alexander Horwath, and Michael Loebenstein. The resulting book, which includes pertinent texts previously published elsewhere, presents a novel approach to stimulating dialogue, and should be considered essential reading for all concerned about film preservation, curatorship, and exhibition.

Although the film-archiving movement commenced in 1935, most repositories did little more than collect and copy films until the 1970s. As we move forward in the 21 st century, what role can and should film archives and museums play? Ina world in which it is increasingly common for digital surrogates to be screened in place of celluloid, and more and more "films" are now produced solely by digital technologies, what responsibility do film museums have to film as an artifact? With the number of digital clips available online in the millions, the public now expects moving images to be accessible, often at the expense of quality. With such a preponderance of videos now available on the Internet, are archival collections perceived to be less unique or valuable than they once were? Cinéphiles will certainly continue to frequent cinematheques and film museums to see celluloid projected on screen, but the general public is less discerning.

One should understand from the outset that this book asks more questions than it answers. The contributors' circular discussions rarely arrive at conclusions; instead, they underscore the key issues facing film archives, cinematheques, and film museums in contemporary society. Refreshingly, the book does not focus simply on preservation activities; instead, its comprehensive perspective includes chapters on presentation and performance, curatorial values, and archival control. The authors argue that interpretation is the key element that makes a collecting body different from a mere repository. As Cherchi Usai notes, "I think one of the imperatives of our profession now is to demonstrate, in a persuasive manner, the importance of an integrated approach to archiving and cu rating, which incorporates the acquisition process, the preservation process, and the presentation process."

United by their concern over a perceived passivity in the field in light of the digital marketplace's emphasis on "content", the authors began brainstorming at a Vienna café on New Year's Eve 2005. Citing a "profound crisis of the so-called 'archival movement'", their conversations continued over the subsequent two years via e-mail, telephone, Skype, and in person, as they worked to elucidate the key values and principles of film curatorship during a period of marked cultural and technological transformation. The book's prologue transports readers back to that café in Austria's capital to outline the conversations which precipitated and inspired this book. That the contributors did not know the shape this project would take in those nascent conversations is evident; that they have chosen, however, to be transparent about their process provides a wonderful lens into the energy and development of this dialogue.

Readers of this Journal will certainly be familiar with the editors of Film Curatorship, whose collective work in the field has spanned decades and continents. In addition to his instrumental work with the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, Paolo Cherchi Usai co-founded the L Jeffrey Selznick School at George Eastman House. David Francis has held leadership positions in the national film archives of both Great Britain and the U.S. Director of the Austrian Film Archive, Alexander Horwath has served as a film critic, writer, and curator. …

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