Over the past few years there has been some conflict over the film vs. digital debate. Mostly, I think, from people who are shortsighted enough to think of it as a debate. Digital Cinema is the mainstream film distribution format now and for the foreseeable future, so there are many ready to abandon 35mm film (the primary format used since the birth of movies) and focus on the future. It makes sense, except that archivists' primary job is to preserve moving image heritage -- its past! -- and that includes its original format. There are also current working filmmakers who prefer that their work be shot on film, and a whole world -- past and present -- of avant garde, experimental and art films made on smaller film formats. The debate is complex and the issues many, but it's very clear to me that both film and digital should be given the same amount of thought and interest in the community, and both should be made accessible for different purposes (I have to stop myself now or I will write a book). The point is, people feel strongly about these and other issues, and the debates seemed to be going nowhere but into the ground. I found last year's conference in Austin to be especially unfriendly. It seemed that there were tensions bubbling just beneath the surface of the organization, and the year following Austin proved that to be true.
Thankfully, this year's conference seemed much more productive. I guess everyone got it out of their systems or stepped out of the way to let people with ideas and focus step up. There were two DCP (digital cinema) panels that covered the pragmatic issues of DCP preservation and, to a lesser extent, exhibition. I learned a lot from them and enjoyed them much more than I thought I would. There was also much more of a film presence. I really enjoyed a chemistry-centered nitrate film panel, and plenty of discussion in which I didn't feel scared to say that I am a film enthusiast. It made for a fun conference, lots of connections made and a good learning environment.
The conference took place in Seattle this year, during the "Festival of the Archives." Having so many opportunities to watch rare films from archives and beautifully restored feature films gave this conference a different vibe than in years past. It didn't feel bogged down or stuffy, and the attendees seemed to skew younger. There was a huge MIAP (my NYU grad program) alumni presence at the conference and on the panels/committee meetings/events, which was really cool. This year I worked on Archival Screening Night, everyone's favorite part of AMIA. Typically ASN is a screening of all the best work preserved or discovered in archives that year. Archivists get six minutes to play a clip of their film and talk about it, and the content is all over the map. This year the ASN Committee put together a "best of" featuring favorites from past years, and it was so much fun! We also had a separate screening for 16mm films, because some of the best submissions are 16mm but it doesn't really work when projected in a large theater. I prepped and rewound the films for that screening and remembered how much I miss having a physical aspect to my job, and that I need to keep pushing for a career that allows me to work with film.
If there was any downside to the conference, it was personal. I had to keep reminding myself to not feel like the kid not invited to the slumber party. I didn't have much to talk about, except in very specific circles, and it made me sad to hear about all of the work and excitement happening in New York that I'm no longer a part of. By the last day I had gotten over myself a bit and found places where I could be useful and involved. I also took some time to catch up with people as friends, take my head out of the "conference" part of it for awhile and just connect with people. That approach always works better for me on every level, and after that things really changed for me. I came home with a renewed sense of focus, a couple projects and a plan, which is what I was hoping for. Seattle itself was great, but I'll talk more about that in another post.
Old footage of UVA (for Sam), fire trucks outside after the nitrate panel on its flammable properties and safety issues (unrelated but hilarious), and the Seattle Cinerama!
Some of my favorite ASN moments: color footage of kittens from 1928, a Beau Brummell comedy act that looks brand new and Bobcat-a-gogo, a commercial from the 60s that I'm obsessed with.
Earrings made by former MIAPer Crystal from U-matic tapes (a format I came to know intimately that summer I was in Hawaii).
View from the rewind bench at the 16mm ASN.
28mm panel and a shot of 100 year old 28mm film being projected.