Lydia Pappas, MIRC Assistant Director and Curator, was honored to have been selected to participate in the now annual APEX trip, run by New York University’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program (MIAP). Lydia happily agreed to take part in a two-week visit to the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina from the 1st to the 12th of June, 2015. APEX is an opportunity for members of the international audiovisual archival community to exchange knowledge and skills in audiovisual archives around the world. Below, Lydia shares a bit about APEX and her experiences.
The Audiovisual Preservation EXchange originated from the MIAP program at NYU, which originally began in 2008 when the initiative was aimed to promote Ghanaian audiovisual archives through collaboration and knowledge exchange between Ghanaian archivists, MIAP students and faculty. A similar endeavor occurred in 2009, when a team of film experts and archivists under the direction of New York University’s Dan Streible, associate director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program (MIAP), traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to help the Museo del Cine preserve its orphan films.
Since then, students from the MIAP program at NYU, in collaboration with the AMIA Student Chapter @ NYU, have developed this project to foster international collaboration and academic dialogue on film and media preservation in order to safeguard the world‘s audiovisual heritage. APEX has now conducted projects to Ghana, Columbia (Bogata) and Uruguay (Montevideo), as well as this latest trip to Argentina (Buenos Aires).
The focus of the APEX trip to Buenos Aires was to work with three distinct film collections of the Museum of Cinema, along with one group that worked directly with the magnetic tape collections of CANAL 7 (TV Pública) under the supervision of Jim Lindner. The three film collections at the Museum Archives were the Nitrate Collection (collection of fiction containing newsreels and many unidentified rolls of silent and sound film), the Peña Rodríguez Collection (collection of silent and sound films from a film collector, producer and critic, in which the most complete version of Metropolis was found) and the Argentinian Navy Collection (documenting different activities of the Argentinean Armed Forces from the 1940s and 1950s)
The Museum of Cinema Pablo Ducrós Hicken was created in 1971 to investigate, preserve and disseminate Argentine film heritage. The foundation of the museum was mainly made up from the private collection of Ducrós Hicken, an essayist, researcher and academic Argentine who devoted much of his life to collecting objects and testimonies related to the film world. The museum owns the country’s largest archive of films, photographs and costumes. After many changes over four decades, and many moves to various locations around the city, the Museum finally reopened in its permanent location, Caffarena 51, in a historic building in the neighborhood of La Boca, on the first of August 2011, and it was to this building that the adventure began for the visiting archivists on Monday June 1st, 2015.
The Museum has the largest collection of films in the country in many different formats, amounting to over forty five thousand cans of film material. The collections consist of Argentine and foreign newsreels, scientific and educational films, films of military strategy produced by the Armed Forces, filming in Antarctica, fragments of lost films, orphan films, scattered remnants of personal collections, home movies, and many unprocessed and unidentified films. Not unlike many other archives in the world, the archive is under-resourced, under-funded, under-staffed and run by a passionate crew of film enthusiasts who do whatever they can, by whatever means necessary, to care for and preserve the films and film ephemera in their care.
I worked in the museum archive (a separate building to the museum itself) for two weeks, with archive and museum staff, and with students from the MIAP program, the Selznick school, and UCLA, on the Nitrate Film collection. The nitrate collection consists of several collections and many of the other collections also have nitrate elements in them such as the Navy and Peña Rodríguez collections. This is enough to warrant a separate vault purely for nitrate film, where the temperatures and humidity levels are kept low. The Nitrate team was essentially working with the oldest films of the Museum, ranging from 1900-1950, and made up of 35mm negative and positive prints of fiction films, newsreels, documentary films, educational films, advertisements, etc. mostly from Argentina.
These films came from a variety of sources. The producers of the Argentinean newsreel Sucesos Argentinos donated the nearly complete newsreel collection, but other nitrate collections were acquired through either personal or professional contracts of former directors of the museum. These days, since the museum has a flourishing reputation as a collector of nitrate film, many more donations have been received and the archive and museum staff are very proactive in pursuing more donations to complement and grow the archive collections.
The primary goal was to identify the varying stages of nitrate decomposition within the collection of Sucesos Argentinos and Fiction Films, which was achieved by winding through, cleaning and inspecting as many films in the 477 cans of Sucesos Argentina and Ficciones collections as possible. The team managed to get through 54 reels of film in the 10 working days that were spent at the Archive.
The films themselves were in very good condition and not suffering from much decomposition. The main damage that was encountered was from old tape splices that had gone bad and bled through layers of film. Out of 54 cans that were inspected very few were not in a good condition, and none were unsalvageable. Almost all of the films were negatives. A few were composite prints that included soundtracks but most were image only. One of the most exciting finds were two newsreel negatives in Ferraniacolor, a subtractive 3 monopack color process that we had never encountered before, and a tricky tinted nitrate print of “La Mosca y sus Peligros.”
Over the course of these inspections there was a selection of problems encountered including mold, rolls of film made up of dozens of individual segments with no discernable continuity (Newsfilm stories), loose reels of film not stored on cores, cans with as many as eight rolls of film in them, as well as some serious shrinking and warping. It was important to document the content of each film, and inspection sheets were filled out in detail for every one. This information was transferred to an excel spreadsheet for the archive staff and all cans were numbered and labeled for easy identification. Most of the reels were made up of multiple film stocks. It was always exciting to open a new can and see what we would encounter, both in terms of the films’ physical condition but also in terms of its content. We all learnt many new things about life in Argentina in the 1940s and what Argentinians were being shown on screen. There were a few special editions on a festival in the wine growing region of Mendoza, where the famous Malbec is produced, that were fascinating for me to watch.
The fortnight’s work culminated in a colloquium on the final day which was made up of speakers from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia as well as all the APEX teams final reports for an audience of film scholars and archivists, held at the NYU Buenos Aires school. It was a lovely way to wrap up the week’s working holiday and a chance for everyone to review the previous 2 weeks activities and hear more details on the other team’s work as well as the chance to talk to fellow archivists in the region and hear about their ongoing work and projects.
The Museum and Archive staff were very accommodating for the entire time that we descended on them and we had many shared lunches together, as well as lunch time walks around the amazing and very eclectic neighborhood of La Boca, home to the historical Italian immigrants population, a whole host of dog populations and the famous football team of Boca Juniors. Many events were arranged for the evenings, as well as nights off to generally explore the wonderful sounds and sights that Buenos Aires has to offer and the APEX teams got to experience a concert at the famous Theatre Colon opera house, a private screening with the director (Luis Puenza) of an Oscar winning Argentinian film (La Historia Oficial) being restored at Cinecolor, an Orphan films screening with films from Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay, at MALBA a modern art museum in the Palermo neighbourhood of the City, and a Home Movies screening and a tour of an Art Gallery, PROA, in La Boca. There were many other informal dinners, drinks and many café breaks for us all with the wonderful staff of the museum as they took us into their hearts and homes to show us how welcome we were.
A big thanks goes out to them all for their wonderful hospitality and for letting us come and invade their workspaces and lives for a short time.
~Written by Lydia Pappas, MIRC Assistant Director and Curator