Molly McBride is a 2016 graduate of the iSchool. Below, she describes her experience preserving film at an institute in Santiago, Chile.
Thanks to a connection I made at the 2015 Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) Conference, in Portland, Oregon, I was invited to apply to participate in something called the Audiovisual Preservation Exchange (APEX) in Santiago, Chile. APEX, organized by students and faculty in NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) Program, and the NYU AMIA student chapter, brings both students and established AV archivists together for international collaboration, discussion, and exchange, around projects at international institutions.
In May of 2016, shortly after graduation, I flew to Santiago to meet my fellow APEX participants. The core APEX group consisted mainly of students and alumni from the NYU MIAP program, but also included two students from UCLA’s information school, two students from the iSchool at UT-Austin, and me. Other participants included AV archivists from Uruguay and Argentina—as well as from our host institutions in Chile.
We were divided into two teams, one to work with film at the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile (the National Library), and one with video at Señal 3 La Victoria, a community television station In the La Victoria neighborhood in Santiago. As part of the team at the Biblioteca, we worked with archivists who were familiar with many AV formats, such as magnetic video and audio, but were not equipped to work with film. With equipment donations secured prior to our trip to Chile (some from our very own Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research), we worked quickly to set up film inspection benches in a corner of the Biblioteca’s conservation lab.
The Biblioteca had two collections for us to work on, both of small gauge home movies from prominent Chileans (including very rare 9.5mm films). They also invited an archivist from the Universidad de Concepción to bring 16mm films from the University collection, and to learn about film handling and preservation. We set up three separate inspection benches. One to work with 8mm and Super 8 film, one for 16mm, and one to work with 9.5mm film.
Because 9.5mm film was only produced by the Pathé company in France between 1922 and 1960, and never widely adopted as a format, this was challenging. We did not have the equipment to do preservation inspections on this film. We had to, instead, adapt equipment used for both 8mm and 16mm film, and do many spices by hand. This was perplexing and very fun—coming up with ideas on how to adapt the equipment to fit a feasible workflow.
Along with preservation inspections and cataloging of the films, we set up a telecine for digitization of the films. This was also an exercise of patience and troubleshooting. There are so many moving parts (literally) to a project like this that setting up a consistent and repeatable workflow is very challenging. Adjusting light diffusion and shutter speed, and blown up projector bulbs, being only some of the challenges we faced.
Another amazing experience that I took part in with the APEX group was a community archiving workshop. The goal behind these workshops are to bring both experts and members of the community together for a day to jump-start an archiving project for an organization in need. In our case, we set up shop at Señal 3 on a Saturday to inspect and catalog the personal U-matic collection of documentarian and filmmaker Pablo Salas, who captured iconic footage from the dictatorship in Chile. We worked with film students from a local college and taught the basics of videotape inspection, as well as worked in groups to organize and catalog over 200 tapes in just a few hours. After this all-day event, the television station threw us an asado, or traditional Chilean barbecue. It was an unforgettable experience.
This only touches on some of the work we accomplished, and knowledge we exchanged, during the two weeks we were in Chile, and doesn’t even begin to address the work done by NYU students and faculty to prepare for and organize this trip. I learned so much about audiovisual archiving, but also about the unique challenges faced by community and cultural institutions around the world. I am extremely grateful for the donation, from Patricia Coatsworth, which made this trip possible.
APEX group in front of the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile