Analysing and assessing film archives

Further on from our original post, on ‘Reeling in a reel of Film Archives’  on Film Production records from past students of UCA’s former art schools and institutions, including the West Surrey College of Art and Design.

Andrew Visser, from UCA’s Film Production department has been undertaking the first steps in assessing, and box listing, the over 200 film reels at UCA.

 

Andrew Visser moving archives

 

Below are his findings:

 

It turned out that the majority of the material was negative in some form or another, about 80% of the total material, with the rest being either print, reversal, or in one instance, an interpositive. The amount of neg isn’t that surprising considering much of the material has been sent to us from labs which have closed down over the years. Most of the negative is straight processed footage, but there are a number of cans which contain A/B Cut Negative, with corresponding instructions (and punch tape) for fades, cross dissolves, double exposure, etc. This material would serve as the final master for that specific film, and are often accompanied by optical sound negative – although this isn’t always the case – and corresponding cut neg and optical sound neg are not always located together.

 

Andrew Visser cataloguing

 

The labeling inconsistencies of the cans means that the overall picture is patchy. In particular there is an awful lot of labeling which does not contain any students names. Out of the 722 cans which are now in the archive (minus those degraded films which have been kept aside) there are about 170 cans which have a name attached to them. In most cases this is stated as, or assumed to be, the director’s name. Where there is the name of an editor, or cinematographer instead, I have noted this in parentheticals.

Dating much of this film has proved difficult as only roughly ⅓ of the labels have any date on them. Out of that third, the majority comes from the early to mid 1990’s, and a smaller quantity from the mid-late 1980s. There are also 10 films from the 1970s and 2 from the 1960s. I would guess that everything from roughly 2000 onwards was labeled, and this amounts to about 50 reels. Based on the labeling styles and conventions, and the overall look of the cans and film, I would suggest that the remaining 2/3rds of undated material would fall roughly into the same ratio of decade groupings.

 In most cases it hasn’t been possible to identify what is live action material, and what is animation. In the few instances where the label has specifically stated that it’s animation, this has been noted in the spreadsheet. In the instances where I did inspect part of the negative or print I didn’t find a single frame of animation, and so I would think that most of what is here is actually live action material, and probably therefore, from the film course.

 Almost all of the film is 16mm, although there are a handful of 35mm negatives and prints.

 Some film titles appear multiple times (scattered around), sometimes numbered, other times with just the title – so it shouldn’t surprise you to see identical entries in the spreadsheet. Almost always this will be different camera rolls/negative for the same film.

Overall I would say that the information gleaned from the labels can only be partially trusted. I found at least one instance of a film being labelled as Black & White, which turned, out on closer inspection, to be colour. I also think that it’s quite possible for some of the institutional name changes to have taken a while to filter through to the labs. So I would not be surprised to find material labelled as WSCAD [West Surrey College of Art and Design], actually being from the SIAD [Surrey Institute of Art and Design] era, especially around the time of transition (around 1995?). The majority of the material that is here is from WSCAD era, with much smaller amounts from the SIAD and UCA eras. Much of the undated material is from WSCAD, and would support my theory that much of this is dates back to the late 1980s to early-mid 1990s. I found only one instance of a film labelled as GSA [Guildford School of Art], although one would assume that the two films from the 1960’s would have been GSA work too.

 There are some films which have badly deteriorated over time, and are suffering the effects of extreme rust, mould, and/or nitrate/acetate base degradation. e better news is that approximately 75% of the actual films are in an okay or good condition. Some of the cans which have external rust are perfectly fine on the inside, and even the cans which are exhibiting signs of internal rust contain film which is more than likely fine.

Rust damaged film

You can find more images of Film and damaged archives on our flickr account

If you are a student or staff member you can access images on Image Bank and create your own learning collection with our images

 

 

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