July 30, 2014 
 
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Audio-Visual Archiving
Josephine M. Atienza
Articles
Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Audio-Visual archive?

       An Audio-Visual (AV) archive is a repository of audiovisual materials, i.e., film and video. A fully functional AV archive is engaged in acquiring and retrieving films from various sources to form the collection; preserving, and restoring, if necessary, the AV materials; making an inventory and catalogue of the collection; and providing access to it. The objective of an AV archive is to provide the means to enable a film to survive for the present and future generation to enjoy and study as a tangible record of the past and as an important part of the cultural heritage.

Why do we have to preserve film?

       As an audio-visual medium, film gives us the most effective record of the past, of the culture, the people's values, attitudes, mores and way of life. For film students and practitioners, exposure to Filipino film classics can give a sense of history and perspective. For film educators, alternative to Western models are provided. And for the general public, they will be given the chance to enjoy (again) the films which shaped their (or their parents') formative years.

 

What is the biggest obstacle to preserving films and other AV materials?

       The fact that ours is a tropical country and tropical climates have a devastating effect in film and tape materials, encouraging rapid degradation through mould, vinegar syndrome, and other effects. As a result, much of the AV heritage has already been lost and a significant number of surviving collections are in a dangerous state.

Is an Audio-Visual archive different from a film archive?

       Not really. It used to be that film (photo-sensitive materials on celluloid base) was the only medium able to record both aurally and visually, hence, the term film archive. But with the advent of video and other materials, like discs, which are also able to record audio-visually, it is deemed best to expand the concern of the archives to accommodate developments in technology and include the new media which will be created thereon.

Why is it important for country to have an AV archive?

       The significance of a national AV archive may be compared to that of the national library (in terms of printed materials) or the national museum (in terms of artifacts). Considering that in the Philippines film and related media have the broadest mass base, undoubtedly the biggest influence on the popular culture, the significance of an AV archive also takes on a sociological and anthropological level.

Do we have a national AV archive in the Philippines?

       For a country with a long and glorious film history, it is ironic that presently the Philippines has no national or central repository of films and other AV materials. In 1982, the Film Archives of the Philippines, a national film archive, was established under the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP), Unfortunately, it belonged to an agency which was a high profile project of a then becoming unpopular political regime. With the imminent fall of the Marcos administration, the three-year-old archive was placed under the then Board of Review for Motion Picture and Television (BRMPT, which is now the MTRCB or the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board) by an executive order. Since archiving is not really a function of the censor's office, the archive under the BRMPT (and later MTRCB) was not a fully functional national film archive. In fact, the present MTRCB under Ms. Armida Siguion-Reyna has announced that they are now returning the films in their collection to their rightful owners and the unclaimed films will be turned over to other archives who may be able to give better care and attention to the films.

Why does it seem so difficult to put up a national AV archive?

       The important requisites in the creation of a national AV archive include the installation and maintenance of expensive facilities, technical expertise, and a deep sense of history and love for films. But more important is the will to set up a film archive with the knowledge that a film archive is an expensive organization.

Who now undertakes the responsibility of preserving our national film heritage?

       Much of the film archiving activities in the country are presently undertaken by the Society of Film Archivists or SOFIA, an organization of individuals/professionals, who may or may not be affiliated with an institution which has an archiving concern, but are personally engaged in some form of AV archiving activity. Founded in 1993 and with a 50 plus membership, from an original eight, SOFIA is in the forefront of such archiving activities as training (on archive management, preservation /film handling, cataloguing, etc.)., promotion and restoration of classics, with financial assistance coming mostly from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

       Most of SOFIA's members come from government and private institutions with some archiving concerns, e.g. the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the U.P. Film Center, which are both active in retrieving important films and making them accessible by providing venue or through outreach programs; the Philippine Information Agency, which coordinates ASEAN regional activities and operates a major film laboratory where almost all of the film restoration works are done; NGO such as Mowelfund, which gives special attention to independent short films; and private/industry based archives like those of Sampaguita, LVN, Viva, and ABS-CBN, which will soon come up with a state-of-the-art film storage and preservation facilities and which now has the biggest feature film collection in the country.

What are the qualifications of an AV archivist?

       There is no college degree on AV archiving. Most of the AV archivists have degree or background as varied as mass communication, film & TV production, library science, public administration, chemistry, literature, humanities, history, so on and so forth. But whatever his background may be, an AV archivists should be motivated by his great love and devotion to the medium, which enables him to know its history, artistic and documentary feasibilities, its creators and interpreters, and the technical aspect of the medium.

Are the AV archives also concerned with other film-related materials?

       A fully functional AV archive should also be concerned with other film-related materials which are called documentation materials. These include scripts, still photos, posters, ad-layouts, newspaper clippings, etc.

What film classics have been "saved from extinction" due to restoration efforts?

       The 1939 Octavio Silos' classic Tunay na Ina, starring Rosario Moreno, Rudy Concepcion and a 9-year-old Tita Duran is restored through the efforts of  SOFIA and the NCCA. Ditto with Gerardo de Leon's Sanda Wong, where a lone existing print in Cantonese had been restored, duplicated and subtitled. Ongoing NCCA-assisted restoration projects include Eddie Romero's Banta ng Kahapon, Lino Brocka's White Slavery, and Gerry de Leon's Moises Padilla Story. Awaiting greenlight are Sampaguita Pictures' Maalaala Mo Kaya (1954), Jack and Jill, MN, and Dalagang Ilokana; LVN's Badjao and Kundiman ng Lahi (both by Lamberto Avellana); and the Cebuano award-winning film Badlis sa Kinabuhi. The last six titles are to be funded under the Cinema Program for Values Formation. SOFIA is also working with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to restore LVN's first film, Giliw Ko, directed by Carlos Vander Tolosa in 1939 and stars Fernando Poe, Sr., Mila del Sol, Ely Ramos and Fleurdelis (Mona Lisa). But even before SOFIA was founded, Gerry de Leon 's Noli Me Tangere was restored and reproduced through the efforts of the private and government sectors with the help of German Technology.

What preservation tips could you give to a film collector or producer with a small film collection?

       Before storage, inspect the film for tears and bad splices, and, if possible, make the necessary repairs. This means investing on a simple rewinding table and splices. Do not touch the film emulsion with your bare hands. Oil from your hand may get into the film and cause deterioration later on. If the film material is dirty or greasy, do a manual cleaning by slowly running the film strip sandwiched in a lint-free cloth (chamois or black velvet) with cleaning solution (preferably methanol). If cleaning surface dirt from a negative, run the film through particle transfer rollers (PTR) to avoid abrasions and scratches. Use splicing tape and not scotch tape when splicing. The latter's adhesive may cause damage to the film. Do not store the film in rusted cans. Do not put anything else other than the film and its core inside the can, especially paper materials may contain acid. Wind the film loosely before putting in the can. This is to avoid blocking and ferrotyping. Stack the films horizontally, not vertically, for long term storage. The film should then be kept in a room with constant low temperature and relative humidity. Avoid having people going in and out of the room. This may cause fluctuation in temperature which may result in condensation. The resulting moisture may cause irreparable damage to the film. But the most practical suggestion will be to scout around for the best AV archive to take care of your collection.

Why not preserve in video which is cheaper and does not occupy too much space?

       Since video is a relatively newer medium, its lifespan is known to be much shorter compared to film. Although its duplication is an easier and less expensive process, there is a considerable loss of quality (generation loss) in every duplication. But the biggest drawback of video, or any of the new media for that matter, is the very fast-changing technology that created it, which renders the format and the equipment to run it obsolete in just a short period of time. On the other hand, a well preserved film material from the 1930's will still run in the most modern film projectors today. But video serves an important purpose in providing a very convenient format for access.

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About the Author:
Josephine M. Atienza is the President and founding member of Society of Film Archivists (SOFIA). She is also a consultant for the ABS-CBN Film Archive and is a freelance producer and Assistant Director for film and television.
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