Film and Video archiving

By richard | 30 October 2015

Film is Fragile – Film needs your help! | BFI Trailer from BFI on Vimeo.

Recently I spent more than a year working as a video archivist for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During this time I digitised several decades of documentary films and news stories. In the process I went from knowing very little about refugees to being a better informed member of the public.

We can learn a lot from watching old films and old television series. We can also learn a lot about society. One documentary I watched was about the Bamboo city. It looked at refugees living there and tried to understand why those trying for asylum were refused. It followed their skills training, language training and finally their acceptance to host countries.

Another documentary I watched was about the 1980s Afghan war when the Soviets went in to try to win over the country. It was fascinating to watch how one generation of Soviets and then a generation of Americans met the same challenges and trials.

Le Monde Du Silence, film by Jacques Yves Cousteau from 1956 is a fascinating documentary because of it’s reflections of what people knew of the seas and oceans at the birth of self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) exploration. This documentary as well as all Jacques Yves Cousteau documentaries are an interesting glimpse back to what people were learning about and discovering. It allows us to study and understand the way in which attitudes and understandings have progressed over the decades.

I watched Magnum PI and it’s interesting to see a pre-mobile phone society. It’s interesting to watch these series and see the world of my youth. Another series of interest is Friends because of how seldom we see mobile phones at least at the beginning of the series. We see how society was in the 1990s. If we watch this series in parallel with Big Bang Theory we see how much society has changed. We see how knowledge has progressed.

We need to keep the film and video heritage alive and well. We, as a generation must work to preserve our film and video heritage. We must either donate our time or the funds to help preserve our heritage. In so doing books about film and television history are not just books. They are interactive. When I was reading about Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov these films were on film or VHS tapes and hard to find. Today they are available on demand. If we continue to digitise and preserve our cultural heritage then future generations will see and understand how ideas and art forms have progressed over the decades and eventually centuries.

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