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.

Call for Papers: IAMHIST Conference 2019

 

XXVII IAMHIST Conference

POWER AND THE MEDIA (Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, 16-19 July 2019)

Confirmed keynote speakers include:

James Curran (Goldsmiths, University of London)

J. E. Smyth (University of Warwick)


Papers and panels are invited for the 2019 conference of the International Association for Media and History. The conference theme this year is POWER AND THE MEDIA.  Scholars of media history have not just been concerned with analysis of the individuals, institutions and elites exerting control, but also with how the media has represented, perpetuated or challenged power structures. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, the conference invites scholars and practitioners from all relevant disciplines to take part in a timely conversation about the relationship between power and the media, from the film and broadcasting industries and the press, to new media, social media and advertising. In addition to keynote presentations, the conference will include film screenings, events geared towards PhD and early career scholars, social events, and a roundtable on the subject of academic power relationships.

Proposals are welcome on, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • Histories and evaluations of media power elites and institutions, and the exercise of control.
  • Media representations and responses to power relationships and inequalities of, for example:  gender, ethnicity, class, region, nationality and disability.
  • Blacklists and exclusionary policies in Hollywood and beyond.
  • The role of alternative or oppositional media and the challenging of power.
  • Freedom and Democracy:  Globalisation, neoliberalism and resistance.
  • Censorship, regulation and offence.
  • The media and soft power:  public diplomacy and international relations.

The deadline for proposals is 14 January 2019, to be sent to iamhist2019@gmail.com. Individual paper proposals should consist of a title, an abstract of 250 words, and a short biography.  Panel proposals (of three papers) require the same detail for individual papers plus a general outline of up to 200 words. We also welcome proposals for artistic or multimedia projects; you are welcome to discuss their suitability with the conference organisers in advance of the deadline.

Notifications of decisions will be sent by early February 2019. Registration will be open by February 2019. Conference attendees are expected to be members of IAMHIST, and there will be an opportunity to join at the time of registration.

A day at the archives… The Kirk Douglas Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society

James Fenwick, University of the West of England

16 October 2018


It was the height of summer in the USA when I arrived in Madison, WI and, apparently, the height of hazing ceremonies on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. As I stepped off of the Van Galder coach that had brought me from Chicago to Madison and headed onto State Street I was greeted by a gaggle of students running past me naked and chanting some fraternity anthem. I took refuge in a nearby coffee shop, somewhat bemused. It reeked of patchouli inside (just like everywhere in downtown Madison did) and the radio hammered out classic British rock like Ten Years After and The Groundhogs (like every café in Madison seemed to do). “First time in Madison?” asked the owner, perhaps sensing my awkward British demeanour as I desperately tried to figure out where to queue. “Yes. Is it always like this?” I asked, my gaze turning to the window at the sight of yet more naked students. “Not always,” said the owner. “Today’s just a quiet day, that’s all man.”

And so it was to this liberal, quirky, and far from quiet city that Kirk Douglas first donated his papers in the late 1960s at the invite of renowned film historian Tino Balio (United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry). Douglas donated further additions in the subsequent decades, contributing to what has become one of the most significant film archives in the world. Housed in the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the Wisconsin Historical Society, an impressive neoclassical building at the heart of the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, the Kirk Douglas Papers were part of a growing empirical trend at the University. Balio obtained further archives, including the United Artists collection, as well as ‘every film released by Warner Bros., RKO and Monogram Studios between 1930 and 1950’.[i] The aim, as Balio outlined to Douglas, was to trace ‘filmmaking as one of the most important modern art forms’ and to archive and preserve materials from filmmaking history for scholarly use.[ii] And the scale of the archive is impressive holding thousands of reels from most of the major Hollywood studios, to the collections of film directors, producers, writers and starts ranging from Robert Altman and John Frankenheimer to Shirley Clarke and Rod Serling (see the online catalogue for full details of the collections). The Kirk Douglas Papers are themselves vast, covering the majority of Douglas’ career from the 1940s through to the late 1980s.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Transatlantic Travel Grant by the European Association of American Studies (EAAS) to allow me to conduct a research trip to the Kirk Douglas Papers. The aim was to further understand the collaborative relationship between Douglas and Stanley Kubrick as well as the industrial conditions in which they were operating in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In addition, the intention was to gather further material for future publications on Douglas’s significance to Hollywood and independent filmmaking. I certainly couldn’t have conducted the trip without the generous grant from EAAS given the costs of travelling to Madison, as well as the exorbitant accommodation costs of the city’s hotels and Air BnB rentals (more about that below).

The Wisconsin Historical Society is set in a beautiful plaza at the end of State Street, the main shopping and eating district in downtown Madison. There are no shortage of cafes and bars to get refreshments, all of which are within a short distance of the archive. The archive is open Monday to Saturday and is located on the fourth floor. There are lifts, but I preferred to take in the ornate surroundings of the staircase each morning, adorned with classical portraits and statues.

There’s no need to book an appointment to visit the archive, though it is always advised you contact them ahead of any trip to ensure the materials you want to look at are available (email askmovies@wisconsinhistory.org). You have to register at the archive desk on your first visit and a form of photo ID is required. They accept a passport or driving licence. The staff are extraordinarily friendly and will provide a tour of the archive facilities, including the state of the art scanners. I had come prepared with a digital camera, but was taken aback at the free to use scanners that create searchable (yes searchable!) PDF files. The PDFs can either be saved direct to a USB drive or to Google Drive. If you prefer to stick with the digital camera, which some days I did for fear I was dominating the scanners, there is ample desk space to do so, along with numerous plug sockets. There is also locker space and you will be allocated a specific locker upon your arrival.

To order items to look at you fill out a slip with the catalogue code and a brief description and you leave it at the collection desk. You’re allowed to have three boxes in the reading room at any one time. I eventually got a conveyor belt system going, always ordering another box after I had finished with one and thereby having a constant stream of boxes ready. I also requested three boxes at the end of each day to be ready for the following morning in order to maximise my time. This meant I could arrive at the archive as soon as it opened and get down to scanning and photographing the documents. It also meant I got through a large proportion of the Kirk Douglas Papers during my stay in Madison, data that I am still going through as I begin to prepare conference papers and articles for future publication.

My initial attraction to the Kirk Douglas Papers had been the fact that it contained extensive material relating to the Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, including contracts and correspondence. This was material not available at the Stanley Kubrick Archive and therefore filled a crucial gap in understanding the relationship between Harris-Kubrick and Douglas’s production company, Bryna Productions. And the material I found was startling, particularly the fraught nature of the relationship between Harris-Kubrick and Douglas and the extent to which the former tried to extricate themselves from a contract they had entered into with Douglas in 1957. In fact, they went so far as to threaten to disband Harris-Kubrick Pictures in order to nullify the contract with Douglas.

The more time I spent going through the Kirk Douglas Papers, the more it became apparent how significant a figure and producer he was in the industrial transformations taking place in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s. Material on Spartacus (1960) reveals the extent to which the film was focus-grouped and marketed, right down to testing which film logos an audience preferred. Douglas was very much an enterprising figure, always thinking of ways to further exploit and promote his work, including devising television specials for Spartacus, or developing a television series based on The Vikings (1958). He was also deeply creative, critically reflecting upon his work and those he was working for. When working on Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978) he persistently provided annotations and advice on draft copies of the screenplay.

The hours I spent holed up in the archive were rewarded with the beautiful surroundings of Madison. There was no better incentive after a hard day’s work in the archive than a couple of Budweiser’s outside Jameson’s, a bar that soon became my regular. There was also a lot to do on the weekends when I wasn’t at the archive, from taking hikes around Lake Monona and Lake Mendota (Madison is situated on an isthmus between the two lakes), to touring the State Capitol building (including climbing up to the outdoor observation deck). I even took in a free screening of the debut episode of series seven of Game of Thrones at the Orpheum Theatre, sans cosplay. Accommodation at Madison does seem to be expensive throughout the year, with downtown hotels often costing hundreds of dollars for just one night. The same is true of Air BNB rentals. Instead, I stayed in a motel just twenty minutes north of downtown, which was cheap but also comfortable. The room came with a king size bed, kitchenette, full cable channels and a continental breakfast. I caught the bus each day, with a single fare costing just $2. There is also a range of weekly or monthly tickets available, which can be purchased at the Community Pharmacy on the corner of State Street and West Gorham Street.

Flight costs to Madison are also expensive and so I decided to fly into Chicago and then take the Van Galder coach to Madison. This is a much more cost-effective option at just $50 return. The trip takes around three hours, mainly because of the heavy traffic in and out of Chicago, but the coach does have Wi-Fi to pass the time. The added benefit of taking the coach was that I was able to factor in a several day stay in Chicago, a must for a blues fan like myself. Waking up to the sight of the Chicago skyline was the most thrilling way to end what was a truly remarkable research trip, one that has provided me with lasting memories as well as a bountiful of archive data for future use.


[i] Price, Jenny, 2007, ‘A glimpse into Kirk Douglas: Film center shares online collection’, https://news.wisc.edu/a-glimpse-into-kirk-douglas-film-center-shares-online-collection/.

[ii] Price, 2007.


James Fenwick is currently Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of the West of England. His areas of research include the role of the producer and the industrial contexts of post-war American cinema, Stanley Kubrick, the life and work of Kirk Douglas, and the unmade films of American cinema. He is currently co-editing a volume on the latter subject, Shadow Cinema: Historical and Production Contexts, with Kieran Foster and David Eldridge. He most recently edited the collection Understanding Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Intellect, 2018).


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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