AEC Film Preservation Workshop 20–24 September 2016

November 29, 2016, 12:00am

with Janice Chen, Archive Officer, AFA.

*This is the third of a four-part blog series as part of Asian Film Archive’s Save Our Film initiative. Read more here to find out about the initiative*

I had the honour and privilege to attend the inaugural ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Film Preservation Workshop hosted and organised by the Film Archive (Public Organization) [henceforth referred to as Film Archive] in Salaya, Thailand from 20 to 24 September 2016. A total of nine participants from the ASEAN region gathered for this five-day workshop to learn the basic principles and skills of film preservation.

The workshop covered the essentials of film preservation: film preservation ethics and priorities, film identification, film handling and storage, video tape physical inspection, video tape preservation and digitisation, born-digital materials, file formats and metadata, managing and preserving digital assets, restoration ethics and practices. Participants also had ample hands-on practice in the labs: identifying film stock, handling physical film reels for inspection and repairs, identifying and inspecting video tapes, digitising tapes into digital files, colour correcting scanned films and more.

From L-R: Chalida Uabumrungjit, Deputy Director of the Film Archive, Dom Sukvong, Director of the Film Archive, and Benedict ‘Bono’ Salazar Olgado, guest workshop lecturer.

From L-R: Chalida Uabumrungjit, Deputy Director of the Film Archive, Dom Sukvong, Director of the Film Archive, and Benedict ‘Bono’ Salazar Olgado, guest workshop lecturer.

The Film Archive’s screening theatre at Salaya

The Film Archive’s screening theatre at Salaya

Staff at the film inspection lab demonstrating how to handle and inspect a film reel

A demonstration on film repairing

A demonstration on film repairing

Janice trying her hands on film winding and repairing

 

Participants and Archive staff discussing the characteristics of different film formats

Participants and Archive staff discussing the characteristics of different film formats

Film scanners at the Film Archive

Film scanners at the Film Archive

The highlight of the workshop for me was working on a 1957 home movie filmed on a 16mm Kodachrome film stock. The film reel was scanned digitally and displayed on a monitor screen as part of a film scanning demonstration. Benedict ‘Bono’ Salazar Olgado, the guest lecturer for the workshop, pointed out the oddity of the picture image onscreen as the images did not seem to have the vivid brilliant colours that Kodachrome films were known for. Chalida Uabumrungjit, Deputy Director of the Film Archive, arranged for the projection of the same film reel on a film projector.

Film projection of the Kodachrome home movie

Film projection of the Kodachrome home movie

Film projection of the Kodachrome home movie

 

The difference between the scanned film and the projected film could not have been more different. The vivid colours and soft tones that were absent on the digital screen popped like wild flowers when projected against the white screen. Chalida expressed that it is especially important for people working with film to have the experience of watching films via a film projector to truly appreciate the colours, tones and grains of the film. As part of the workshop, we had the opportunity to colour grade the film to try and achieve the same look and feel as if it was a film projection.

Working on this home movie was particularly memorable as it brought together several work processes and principles of preservation. It was a rare opportunity to be able to see an analogue film projection in this digital age. It made the difference for me as a budding practitioner in the field of film archiving to be able to discern the differences between watching a film as a digital clip and as an analogue projection. Through this exercise, I realised that even as older forms of analogue technology become obsolete, it is still possible to enjoy experiences of the past by utilising newer technology.

Observations and thoughts from my visit to the Film Archive

On the first day of the workshop, we were treated to a screening of Dream Keepers, a documentary film made in 2014 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Film Archive. The film documented the beginnings of the Archive and its history. What was striking was the steady presence of Dom Sukvong, one of the co-founders and the current Director of the Film Archive. Despite his quiet and unassuming presence, Dom is truly a living inspiration for his perseverance and continual advocacy that has enabled the Archive to last for three decades. In his opening statement, he shared some of the challenges about the Archive’s early years and the initial motivation of starting the Archive.

Dom Sukvong, director of the Film Archive speaking at the opening of the workshop

Dom Sukvong, director of the Film Archive speaking at the opening of the workshop

The current Film Archive building that houses a 100-seater cinema

The current Film Archive building that houses a 100-seater cinema

The future home of the Film Archive now undergoing construction

The future home of the Film Archive now undergoing construction

Starting out with only a handful of staff, the Film Archive has grown to comprise to about 70 permanent and part-time staff with dedicated teams to oversee the operations of the various departments in the Archive. I got the chance to interact with staff from Outreach and Programming, Film Processing, Digital Film and the Restoration departments.

Workshop participants with Archive staff visiting the new vault

Workshop participants with Archive staff visiting the new vault

Chalida highlighted that many of the Archive staff were not trained or had film background. Most learnt on the job and from more senior staff. Noting the lack of trained personnel in the country and the region, the Archive makes it a priority to ensure that all staff members undergo a six-month rotational training that runs through the different processes of the work flow within a department.

Containers are transformed into the Archive staff’s working spaces

Containers are transformed into the Archive staff’s working spaces

Although most of the Archive staff work in temporary container offices, the offices are fully-equipped and well-maintained. The Archive has a film inspection lab where all acquired films are first processed. Films are inspected, cleaned and repaired before moving on to storage or additional processing. The Archive also houses state-of-the-art equipment required for digital restoration and digitisation. During the visit, I saw three top grade film scanners that cater to different film gauges and sizes, at least eight Mac work stations to handle the digital processes in terms of digitising and editing, and dedicated servers and additional local storage to handle the large amount of data produced. Despite having adequate equipment and skills to do all the necessary work in-house, Chalida explains that the Archive has far too many films to process and thus outsource work especially film restoration projects to commercial film labs.

The exterior of the Thai Film Museum

The exterior of the Thai Film Museum

The various façade on the Film Archive grounds

The various façade on the Film Archive grounds

Public accessible facilities include a 100-seater cinema theatre, a resource library and a museum at their current location in Salaya. The Archive’s collection is accessible via an online database although it is currently only available in Thai. The Archive houses its existing collection of films in three vaults, with plans to build two additional ones. The latest vault was recently completed in 2016 and is in a new building that is home to the Film Archive.

A special tour of the Film Archive’s newest vault

A special tour of the Film Archive’s newest vault

The temperature of the vault stays at a consistent 8°C with a relative humidity of 45%

The temperature of the vault stays at a consistent 8°C with a relative humidity of 45%

The interior of the vault was simple but impressive. The temperature of the vault is kept at 8°C with a relative humidity of 45%. There are approximately 21,000 film reels, with 10,000 more reels waiting to be moved into their new home.

Participants, Film Archive staff and guest speakers of the AEC Film Preservation Workshop 2016

Participants, Film Archive staff and guest speakers of the AEC Film Preservation Workshop 2016

The Film Archive is probably the forerunning film archive in Southeast Asia. They have grown substantially over the years and will only grow bigger in the coming years. 30 years does not seem like a long time, but for a region that has only recently began placing significance on the importance of archiving its heritage and culture, 30 years is formidable. This visit to the Film Archive has opened many doorways and opportunities for us to learn from our Thai counterparts, and I only hope that they will continue with this workshop annually to cultivate and train budding film archivists from the region.

 

*This is the third of a four-part blog series as part of Asian Film Archive’s Save Our Film initiative. Read more here to find out about the initiative*