Today, October 27th, is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. The day is marked every year by audiovisual archives and archivists as a means to (in UNESCO’s words) “raise general awareness of the need for urgent measures to be taken and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of national identity”.
There is a list of some of the many events taking place around the world, which range from AVPreserve releasing utilities designed to support various aspects of the digital preservation process, to the National Archives of Australia showcasing gems from its collection via social media sites, to the National Library of Latvia launching a new digital audio collection.
Among the several online launches, one that brings particular pleasure to me is the new website for Film Archives UK, together with a smart promo film, embedded above. Film Archives UK exists to promote the understanding of film archiving in the United Kingdom, to represent the interests of such archives, and to promote best practice. The new site has information on the organisation, its members and its purposes, with guidance on film archiving, news, a blog, and information on courses and jobs in the sector.
There is more to film archives than cinema as commonly understood. Yes we want feature films to be cared for (if we cannot trust the film industry to do this for themselves) but film also means documentaries, instructional films, advertising films, newsreels, experimental films, animation, promotional films, industrial films, home movies, home videos and more. The members of Film Archives UK represent the more inclusive, more practical understanding of film – not as art but as the mirror of society. In particular the UK’s regional film archives are preserving, as far as they can, our home movie heritage. This is preservation predicated on the understanding that films of our family holidays are of no less importance to our cultural heritage than feature films. This is film culture grounded not in dreams but in place, in class, in family, in identity.
Doubt my word? Well, if the video at the top of this post does not stir the heart and make you want to belong to those places and peoples from the not so distant past, then try this recent compilation from North East Film Archive, Middlesborough on Film. Though the artfully chosen music helps, I don’t think I’ve seen a more powerful selection of archive film. It makes even the non-Middlesborough resident feel nostalgic for a town they do not know, with a yearning for a connection with the past that will help us understand ourselves. Its effect on Middlesborough residents themselves must be so powerful – indeed it you can judge this from the many comments on the film to be found on the Discover Middlesborough Facebook page for the film.
The members of Film Archives UK are the East Anglian Film Archive, the Imperial War Museum Film Archive, the Media Archive for Central England, the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Scottish Screen Archive, Screen Archive South East, South West Film and Television Archive, Wessex Film and Sound Archive, and the recently twinned Yorkshire Film Archive and North East Film Archive. There also several associate members, including the BFI National Archive. The aim is now to broaden the membership to include other archives, a collective representation of what is the national film archive.
I had some involvement with the organisation when it was known as the Film Archive Forum, fighting many battles over over niggardly funding, trying to gain recognition for their work within an archives, museums and libraries sector that sometimes found it hard to think beyond paper. Film says more than words can express – that is what is special about it. If it only repeated what the written word can document, there would be no point to it. And it never loses the power it has to sway hearts and establish a connection with the past. Film lasts. It is the ordinary made extraordinary. How lucky we are that we have archives so dedicated to preserving such a heritage.