A Day at the Archives… Film & Diplomacy in Rome’s State Archives (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Central State Archives)

Carla Mereu Keating, University of Bristol

8 February 2019


In the spring of 2014, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust awarded a small research grant to my project entitled “The Language and the Image of a Nation: Diplomatic Relations between the Italian Foreign Office and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) during the 1930s”. The scheme is notoriously very competitive, so when my project was selected, I couldn’t quite believe it.

As detailed in my plan of action, I was going to carry most of my research in Rome at the historical diplomatic archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [Ministero degli Affari Esteri (MAE)] to study the correspondence exchanged in the interwar period between the Italian Foreign Office and the MPPDA, the North American film trade association headed by Will Hays most commonly known as the Hays Office. I also planned to visit the Central State Archives [Archivio Centrale di Stato (ACS)], to document the level of interference exercised by Mussolini’s administration in the circulation of foreign-language films in Italy during the fascist regime.[i]

I stayed in Rome between September 2014 and March 2015. From September to December, I visited the MAE archive; between December and March, I mostly worked at the ACS. These two state archives are located in two different areas of Rome. The ACS is located in the South West, in the wealthy EUR district, only a 5-minute walk from the Laurentina stop of the Metro B line. The journey to the MAE archive, located in the North West, is not as straightforward. Because I visited the archive before during my PhD, I was aware that this area, and Rome in general, is not often serviced well by public transport, and if I wanted to commute easily to the various archives and libraries scattered around the Eternal City, [ii] I needed to stay somewhere not too far from Termini Central Station, where the two main metro lines A and B intersect. I was lucky to share an apartment near San Giovanni, which is served by the Metro A line and only a couple of stops away from Termini.

Central State Archives (ACS):

 

Historical Diplomatic Archive (MAE):

MAE’s historical diplomatic archive is open to researchers only between 9:00 and 14:00, Monday to Friday. To get access researchers need to make an appointment through the online system, submitting copy of their ID and a reference letter from their supervisor/mentor/funding body. Citizens of foreign countries are required to submit further documentation as to why they need to carry out research in Italy. They will also likely need to have some knowledge of Italian or work alongside someone who does when making their application and during their time at the archive.

The entrance to the archive is on the left side of the Ministry’s imposing building. Upon my arrival, I reported to reception and then went through security and bag checks. Once inside, I was asked to leave my belongings in one of the small lockers outside of the reading room. I was allowed to bring my own laptop, phone, notebook, camera (or scanner) inside the room. Personal reproduction is free but previous authorization is required. There is also a photocopying machine, but it can’t be used if records are in poor physical condition (and if working on pre-WW2 collections, it is likely that they are dusty and/or have deteriorated).

The ACS is open to researchers Monday-Friday 9:00-18:45 and Saturdays 9:00-13:00. A photo ID will be required each day to access the reading room, and small lockers are available on the ground floor. On the first floor, first-time visitors will need to register and to briefly describe their research. Photocopying and photography are allowed but at a fee set by the archive. Inside the building there is only a small area with a few vending machines, but the outside area is better served if one is in need of a short break.

During my time at MAE’S archive, I collected textual evidence of a diplomatic dispute between Italy and the United States concerning film trade. The production by US film companies of films spoken partially or wholly in Italian and which portrayed characters of Italian heritage and/or episodes and figures from national history – such as, for example, Scarface (1932), Farewell to Arms (1932), Idiot’s Delight (1937) – triggered a remarkable exchange of correspondence between the two countries: Rome accused the North American film majors of insulting the prestige and the dignity of the Italian nation and people, repeatedly requesting through the Italian embassy in Washington (but also drawing the large Italian diplomatic network in the US and across the world into the dispute) a halt to the production and the international circulation of any film which could offend Italian sensibilities.

General Administration, Political Affairs, 1931-1945, United States, b. 5, 1931, f. 12, Italy and the Italian language in American cinema

The Hays Office, alongside the US State Department, communicated regularly with the Italian Office via Washington and New York to reassure the Italian government of their intention to treat any foreign background sympathetically as to avoid disturbing in any way “the progress of international amity”. The Italians were not the only ones whose complaints the MPPPDA had to deal with  ̶  the Mexicans and the French, for example, also protested strongly against Hollywood’s negative stereotyping and inaccurate historical portrayals (one can read more on the subject in Ruth Vasey’s pioneering The World According to Hollywood 1918-1939).

General Administration, Political Affairs, 1931-1945, United States, b. 12, 1932, f. 11, Italy in American cinema; Scarface and others

MPPDA’s contacts with Italian officials in the US were generally very amicable. Consuls, ambassadors and representatives of the film industries occasionally met to discuss office matters, but also for private film screenings, dinners and other social outings. Aside from some occasional unresolved episodes of friction, mostly caused by Rome’s unabashed political interference in Hollywood’s business, this seemingly cordial relationship lasted until 1938, when the majors embargoed the Italian market in reaction to the fascist monopoly laws of the same year.

The ACS conserve rich documentation related to the development of the Italian film industry under Mussolini, such as, for example, finance and legal documents attesting to the state’s involvement in the film industry, correspondence, screenplays and photographs. I was interested in providing textual evidence for Mussolini’s infamous decision to silence and later ban from theatrical distribution early sound films spoken in a foreign language. I was also looking for further examples of state censorship to complement the data that I previously collected at MAE and during my PhD at the Italia Taglia archive of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali e il Turismo (MiBACT) [Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism]. Other interesting archival records were also discovered serendipitously, such as evidence of the cordial relationship between Mussolini and US film companies such as Fox and Columbia, or correspondence discussing the organisation of the dubbing industry in Rome in the 1930s.

General Administration, Political Affairs, 1931-1945, United States, b.18, 1933, f. 16, Mussolini Speaks

However, research into materials that interested me was not as straightforward as that at MAE. Several hours were spent inspecting the existing ACS catalogues for relevant information. A systematic enquiry into their vast collections was significantly complicated by the fact that documents related to the development of the Italian film industry and to the political personalities involved in the film trade 1) are not always inventoried/catalogued; 2) are sometimes missing from the folders; 3) appear erratically under different offices such as the Ministries of the Interiors, of Corporations, of Trade, of Finance, of Press and Propaganda, of Popular Culture, as well as in the Duce’s Office, the State Press Agency Stefani, the Office for Propaganda abroad and so on (including respective sub-offices!).

Research into the textual records of MAE and ACS expanded my existing knowledge of the relation between the fascist Italian government and the US film industry between the two world wars. It also enriched my understanding of the inner workings of the Foreign Office and of the role that ambassadors and consuls played in the international traffic of films. Some of the archival findings have since found their way in my first monograph, while others are forthcoming in chapters published in edited books. A case study on 1932 Scarface can be found here.


[i] The project also allowed for a period of research in Los Angeles (the Margaret Herrick Library, UCLA’s Film and Television Archive and the Warner Bros. archive).

[ii] I also visited the National Central Library, the Biblioteca Alessandrina, the Biblioteca Luigi Chiarini of the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and the Cineteca Nazionale.


Carla Mereu Keating obtained a PhD in Italian from the University of Reading (UK). She currently holds a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship in the School of Modern Languages at the University of Bristol (UK). Her research project investigates Hollywood’s film translation industry and the introduction and developments of dubbing in Europe. She has published several articles on media translation history, censorship and ethnicity and is the author of The Politics of Dubbing. Film Censorship and State Intervention in the Translation of Foreign Cinema in Fascist Italy (Peter Lang, 2016). She co-organises Migrating Texts, an annual series of seminars and masterclasses exploring subtitling, translation and adaptation.


 

‘Our Day Out’ – Memories from the Keith Medley Archive

Ian Bradley, Liverpool John Moores University and Sue Potts, Institute of Cultural Capital

7 December 2018


In 2009 Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) was introduced to a largely forgotten collection of negatives, ledgers and glass plates by the family of a local commercial and press photographer Keith Medley. The collection was eventually donated to the University and is and currently located at the Special Collections and Archives at the university.

Following a successful bid by the Liverpool Screen School at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to the Heritage Lottery Fund, work commenced on developing a media archival project utilising a selection of images from the archives which eventually formed the backbone of a project entitled Our Day Out

Keith Medley worked in and around Merseyside for most of his career between 1949 until his retirement in 1987. The accompanying photographic ledgers revealed a broad range of subject material drawn from around the region documenting a variety of events including: sport, portraiture and commerce. A small portion of the archive also featured the local seaside resort of New Brighton and many of the original negatives and glass slides show activities from the resorts heyday back in the early 1960s.

The resort of New Brighton is a small seaside town on the Wirral coast at the mouth of the River Mersey. It was a favourite destination for family outings from the nearby city of Liverpool and many made the short journey across the river via the New Brighton ferry service. This aspect of the collection portrayed typical seaside activities and included many of the resorts former attractions including: its pier, fairground and large outdoor bathing pool. Because of its long association with the City of Liverpool residents from around the region affectionately remembered the resorts heyday as a place of fun and entertainment.

Figure 1: New Brighton Beach and Pier c.1965

Figure 2: Open Air Swimming Pool c.1965

Our Day Out utilised a segment of the archive and work commenced on digitising a selection of negatives and glass plates. These were initially uploaded to the photo sharing website Flickr and provided an opportunity to collate the available resources and illustrate the extent of the archive available

A small representative sample from the collection, depicting typical seaside activities, was assembled to form a series of memory packs to be used by student volunteers as part of a series of workshops conducted at two local community centres in Liverpool – The Poppy Centre, run by Age Concern, and Kensington Fields Community Association. Working with pensioners from both centres, the activity workshops encouraged moments of personal recollection and at times lively debate around the theme of family excursions and teenage visits to the seaside. Although a number of participants were initially rather hesitant, particularly about their ability to recall events so far back in time, however, the use of photographic documentation provided an effective means prompting memory discourse.

Audio recordings from these workshops provided useful context and helped determine subsequent lines of enquiry. The workshops were also seen as an effective icebreaker helping to break down the age barrier between volunteers and student helpers while encouraging further participation.

Following this initial success volunteers expressed a keen interest in developing their role and participation with the project subsequently volunteering to take part in a series of more personalised interviews to be conducted in front of camera and with each interview adding further depth and voice to the collection.

The second phase of the project built on the notion of the traditional seaside post card and involved the creation of a series of individual personalised post cards depicting a number of images drawn from the collection, each one selected by the our volunteers.

Figures 3 and 4: Post Card Templates

Figure 5: Post Card Reverse

The ensuing post cards also incorporated excerpts taken from interviews, again further extending the post card metaphor while providing a recognisable association with the past, which contributors could directly relate to. This approach was further augmented by the integration of Quick Response (QR) codes, printed on the reverse, which enabled access to individual video interviews using appropriate smart phone technology.

It was felt that by facilitating access to traditional and familiar forms of distribution, participants were given a more tangible and recognisable keepsake. The post cards also offered further opportunity for distribution amongst friends and family and provided opportunity, for those with appropriate technology, to have access to video transcripts via the OR codes.

The final phase of the project involved the creation of a dedicated website to host outputs and promote comment and further reflection. The website, entitled ‘Our Day Out’ also included a short form documentary by way of an introduction.

This experience was also replicated through social media channels, which again extended discussion and provided further context. In some instances the posting and sharing of content threw up some unexpected consequences, including several postings, which later identified individuals from the archive.

To celebrate the completion of the project, a series of exhibitions featuring framed photographs together with contributions collected from all the interviews was available at the two participating centres and a further and more formal exhibition was curated at the Museum of Liverpool in 2016.

Our Day Out brought the existence of the Keith Medley archive to the public eye and successfully demonstrated the potential of the archive as a valuable social document bringing about substantial public interest. Our Day Out has also tested the water with the collection and demonstrated the potential of such an archive as important social record of everyday life.


Ian Bradley, Lecturer Media Production, Liverpool Screen School, Liverpool John Moores University

Sue Potts, Knowledge Exchange and Business Manager, The Institute of Cultural Capital


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A Day at the Archives… The IFI Irish Film Archive, Dublin

Ciara Chambers, University College Cork

27 November 2018


The IFI Irish Film Archive recently launched The Irish Independence Film Collection on the IFI player amidst a flurry of media attention in Ireland and beyond. The project, funded by the Irish government’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht through the 2016 project office, has repatriated newsreel stories covering Ireland by Pathé and Topical Budget between 1914-1930. The IFI Irish Film Archive worked closely with British Pathé and the British Film Institute, encouraging a return to the original nitrate stock to digitise it to the highest possible quality, offering much sharper digital transfers than the older, low resolution standard-definition telecines. This is groundbreaking work in the preservation of newsreel material, and it has happened at a time of acute reflection, nostalgia and re-evaluation of national identity. Setting aside Ireland’s complex relationship with Britain as the Brexit crisis unfolds, the country is currently in the middle of a ‘decade of centenaries’, a period between 2012 and 2022 marked by a range of public commemoration as modern Ireland reconsiders the twentieth-century events that were part of the founding of the state, with a particular focus on the Easter Rising (1916), the War of Independence (1919-21), the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-23).

Courtesy of LMDÓC / Patrick Jordan / Roman Garcia Albir

This is just one of a range of innovative projects undertaken by the Irish Film Archive. It recently restored, digitized and catalogued 8000 rolls of 35mm film containing a large collection of Irish advertisements. An important focus of this project, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, was to make the material accessible to the general public, and it can now be viewed here: https://ifiplayer.ie/adverts/ The Irish Film Archive also collaborated with University College Cork on Capturing the Nation (funded by the Irish Research Council) which focussed on the digitization and cataloguing of small-gauge Irish amateur film. With innovative projects like these, the IFA strives to achieve a balance between preservation and access, always ensuring that material is made available to the general public through screenings, the IFI player and DVD projects (some of these, for instance GAA Gold – depicting archival material covering Irish sports – were bestsellers in Ireland). The expert team, headed by Kasandra O’Connell, works tirelessly and often with limited funding to preserve and contextualise Ireland’s filmic heritage. The innovative nature of IFA projects has not gone unnoticed by the International archive community; Access and Digital Collections Developer Kieran O’Leary was awarded Focal International employee of the year in 2018.

Founded in 1986, the IFI Irish Film Archive includes in its vaults a range of indigenous film production from 1897 to the present day including feature films, documentaries, newsreels and amateur material. The work of prominent industry directors is preserved alongside films made within local communities, capturing representations of Ireland that chart shifting social attitudes and conditions.

Odd Man Out

The Quiet Man

The portrayal of Ireland on film has been a largely problematic one due to a lack of a sustained indigeneous film industry until the 1970s.  Prior to this, in narrative filmmaking, Ireland was depicted by external filmmakers and often appeared as rural idyll (particularly in American depictions like John Ford’s The Quiet Man, 1952) or as dark, violent and dangerous territory (as in some British portrayals like Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out, 1947). Even the majority of newsreels produced for cinema audiences (and the only source of onscreen news available to the Irish population before the advent of television in the 1950s) were, with a few exceptions, produced by external companies with a tendency to depict scenes of rural primitivism and an inherent violent Irish disposition. This meant that Ireland watched a portrayal of itself which was tinged with postcolonial connotations and often at odds with day-to-day reality.  However, throughout this time amateur local filmmakers were capturing events which hold valuable clues to an internal social and historical perspective on twentieth-century Ireland. Digitizing and exploring this material poses questions on how the Irish amateur gaze depicted modern Ireland and offers the possibility of constructing an alternative narrative to that of mainstream cinema. Sitting alongside professional representations of Ireland in the Irish Film Archive’s facilities in Dublin and Maynooth, this material is a significant cultural resource for researchers keen to understand the development of filmic portrayals of Ireland.

Visiting the Irish Film Archive, located in Temple Bar, the heart of Dublin city centre, is a pleasure. It is attached to the Irish Film Institute, a bustling three-screen arthouse cinema space which hosts a range of festivals and special events and runs an extensive lifelong learning education programme. Local filmmakers and artists often use the IFI’s busy café bar as a meeting spot and you never know who you might bump into there at any time of the day or evening.

Bookings need to be made in advance, and often the viewing facilities are booked out for extended periods of time so it’s vital that you make a reservation and liaise with staff about the material you’d like to see, particularly since the catalogue is not available online. Preliminary enquiries should be made in writing, addressed to access@irishfilm.ie. If the material you need to view is held on film and has not yet been digitized, it will be added to the transfer list and this could take up to six weeks to complete, so it’s important that you plan your visit well in advance. The staff are generous in sharing both their time and expertise and it’s likely that after a visit you’ll come away with even more information about the collections than you anticipated. And if you’re looking for contextual material, the IFI also hosts the Tiernan McBride library, one of the largest collections of film-related publications in Ireland.

https://ifi.ie/archive/research-library/

A large collection of books and DVDs are also available for purchase in the IFI shop:

https://ifi.ie/shop/

Ever proactive in facing the challenges of a small nation with a contested and problematic history, the Irish Film Institute is currently compiling a Moving Image Register to better assess the range of material in need of preservation. A similar survey of archival material is being conducted in Northern Ireland, which does not have a dedicated physical space for the preservation of moving images. However, in 2000, the Digital Film Archive (DFA) was launched by the Northern Ireland Film Commission (now Northern Ireland Screen) and a range of material has been added to it since. The DFA holds narrative and experimental film, television, news, animation and amateur material from 1897 through to the present day and is currently available at a range of museums, libraries, universities and heritage-related locations in Northern Ireland. A full catalogue and a range of the collections are available for viewing here: www.digitalfilmarchive.net

If you are looking for material related to Northern Ireland, it is worth checking on both the Digital Film Archive and in the catalogues of the Irish Film Archive. For queries related to the DFA, and to learn more about its educational outreach programme, see here: https://digitalfilmarchive.net/contact

Northern Ireland Screen is also working closely with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) to preserve the archives of local broadcaster UTV and it is hoped that some of this invaluable material will soon join other UTV gems on the DFA http://www.northernirelandscreen.co.uk/news/utv-archive-preserved-public-record-office-northern-ireland/

If you’re visiting Dublin from outside Ireland, a large amount of accommodation is available within walking distance of the Irish Film Institute and you’ll find numerous pubs and eateries along the cobbled streets of Temple Bar. Be warned though, it’s a lively spot, particularly on weekends, so if you need some quiet time to reflect on your research, you may want to stay somewhere a little more serene. Dublin, of course, is the home of Guinness, so if you’d like to indulge in a pint or an Irish coffee after a hard day’s research, neither will be hard to find… Sláinte!


Dr Ciara Chambers is Head of Film and Screen Media, University College Cork, author of Ireland in the Newsreels (Irish Academic Press, 2012) and co-editor of Researching Newsreels (Palgrave, 2018). She is a member of the editorial board of Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, book reviews editor for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and a member of the IAMHIST Council. Her research interests include newsreels, amateur film and the recycling of archival images. She has worked on a range of archival projects and digitization initiatives with the Irish Film Archive, Northern Ireland Screen, Belfast Exposed Photography, UTV, BBC, and the British Universities Film and Video Council. She is scriptwriter and associate producer on Éire na Nuachtscannán (Ireland in the Newsreels), a six-part television series broadcast on TG4 in autumn 2017 http://www.irelandinthenewsreels.com

https://www.ucc.ie/en/filmstudies/people/


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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