Recap of the “Raiders of the Lost Archive” Panel

As the transition from film to digital becomes increasingly popular (though not necessarily smooth), the question of archiving is becoming a dominant topic of discussion. In the future, how will we save movies, from features to home videos? On USB sticks? Hard drives? A cloud? Though thought of as a dusty procedure done by wiry-haired humans in dark basements, the archive has long been a site for avant-garde and experimental filmmakers to pillage something new from the old. Hosting six experts and filmmakers, the punny-titled “Raiders of the Lost Archive” panel delved into the questions of ethics, logistics and legalities when it comes to film archiving.

Moderated by Madeleine Molyneaux, the discussion began with the notion of democratizing the archive, a process which requires questioning not only what is deemed “important,” but also who is saying so. Filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson explores this in his work, noting that as he began looking for archival footage of African American life prior to the civil rights movement very little existed. As he said: “People just didn’t point their cameras that way.” Bringing up questions of who is made invisible in society, Everson’s previous work has sought to recreate found footage from the ‘60s and ‘70s, retroactively addressing this historical—and literal—blind spot. 

Andrew Lampert spoke at length about similar issues, noting his own archive/collection focused on the disregarded and banal images which could be repurposed for new meaning. For instance, looking at 8mm footage of recordings of Larry Roemer’s Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer (1964) or the moon landing “boot-legged” off of televisions becomes particularly interesting in the age of torrents.

The role of cinemathques in canonizing and valorizing certain works also came up. Pornography, for instance, often poses a problem for archives. And while Everson pointed out Canadians are more open to it than Americans (there is a large collection of this genre at the film archive at the University of Toronto) its acceptance into the collection at the time was fraught. Issues of dominant morality are never far from the archive.

When considered to be both a visual and physical catalogue of memory, the archive is hardly the dry subject it is thought to be. But then, the panel’s namesake, Indiana Jones, always knew that.

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