Progress Not Perfection: The Work of Ariel Schudson


One of the most central issues to moving image archiving is the idea of alliance. From the development of professional archival associations like AMIA, FIAF, IASA and SAA to more library or technically-oriented groups like the ALA, SLA, OLAC and SMPTE, we all rely on each other. The conferences, forums and symposia that we attend are examples of information-gathering, networking and work presentation and/or brainstorming with colleagues. The other skilled professionals in this field are essential for critical achievement, growth and success, personally and professionally. From the initial days of the studios coming together to develop communal standards for theater exhibition to the present day studio economics where Andrea Kalas can discuss how Paramount simply borrowed certain materials from the Academy to enhance the Blu-ray restoration of Sunset Blvd, it is clear that moving image archiving has come a long way.

Trust, once broken, is difficult to be regained. This is something that we face with the film collector community, a group that we should be forming more of  an alliance with now that we are extending our alliances with the creation of Deep Focus, the moving image directory I am working on as AMIA Access Committee head. Since the 1970s, though, when Roddy McDowall’s house was raided for film prints, Tony Slide notes, “the harrassment of innocent film collectors” began to be out of control. This is an area that can be worked on. We have come together several times as a community. As Jan-Christopher Horak and other renowned scholars have noted, it was when the National Film Preservation Board had hearings in 1993 that the alliance of moving image archivists showed in full force. Horak writes, “Almost from the moment of its founding, AMIA has endeavored to establish relations with other organizations and archival initiatives…In point of fact, lobbying by AMIA members and AMIA itself eventually contributed in part to the dramatic shift in government film preservation funding priorities.” (Horak 2011)

It is this kind of community that I believe can make change in the moving archive world. This kind of alliance is what began the Orphans movement, running so strong today. It is this kind of community force that pushed for the appreciation of Home Movie Day, which were featured films at a packed room at the TCM Film Festival this year. This kind of allied organization is what makes me believe that film, not matter what format it is in, will never “die,” thus I wrote a piece saying as much and attempting to rally the troops to the theaters! Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason would have stayed hidden and forgotten were it not for the incredible teamwork of the Academy, Milestone, the Svenska Film Institute and so many more!

What I have learned within the MIAS program is that archives help each other and that it is a community. Each tour we took, each speaker that came to a class had one or more stories about a print that was missing a reel that needed to be borrowed from another archive or vice versa. The kind of network that exists within this world of vastly different working professionals (from catalogers to programmers) is allied and based upon something that is looking for something higher than their own end. When I wrote my piece on EC Comics preservation for Snowden Becker’s class it always seemed to me that the groups involved had that same ethos: the work should be the goal and access to enjoyment of the work was just as important.

Meanwhile, when I worked on my project about the Boston College Subpoenas, I realized that this utopian vision may not always fit with every “alliance” related project. Just as with the film collectors trusting in a community that had never done them wrong before, the Boston College Archive believed they were safe because they had formed a connection to the institution backing them. While this case is still in legal limbo, being able to look critically at the archival alliances you make is essential. It affects not only your own work and livelihood, but the collections that you are responsible for.

Jan-Christopher Horak. “Surveying AMIA’s First Twenty Years.” The Moving Image 11, no. 1 (2011): 113-126. (accessed May 31, 2013).

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