by Megan Lim En
I spent three months (May – July 2021) at the Asian Film Archive as a Collections intern, and got to experience what it was like working in a film archive.
Although my internship was impeded by the series of Heightened Alert restrictions that prevented me from having what would have been a more regularised internship, I was fortunate enough to be able to go into the office to work twice a week. This allowed me to experience a lot of hands-on work in the office, such as organising an extensive series of production photo collection from Royston Tan’s early short films. It gave me a newfound appreciation for such production elements that tend to be overlooked and I gained a better understanding of the different ways of organising and presenting these materials. I also got to work with film reels retrieved from storage from the National Archives of Singapore. It was a thrill to work with the film reels. I learnt how to hand-clean, wind and handle these film materials. The most interesting set of films that I got to work on were the films of Rajendra Gour, namely My Child My Child and Labour of Love: The Housewife. It was fascinating to discover the ways which Gour worked with the film medium, including the rushes that he had shot and collected. Through observing the similarities and differences between the digital and analogue copies, I was able to draw certain conclusions on the various iterations that the filmmaker went through before arriving at the final version. Looking at the rushes and work-in-progress versions that have been preserved by the Archive gave me an insight to the filmmaker’s working style and his process of creative development. It made me realise the importance of preserving not just the final product, but the documentation of the creative process as well.
Apart from my work in the office, I spent the week working-from-home (WFH). My WFH tasks were equally as interesting as I had plenty of films to watch and catalogue, in between film watching, lots of research on the collections of different international film archives. As a film student, the opportunity to watch a diverse array of films was enriching. I was exposed to Thai filmmakers such as Sorayos Prapapan and films from Malaysian Digital New Wave director James Lee. Since the films that I catalogued had a distinctive Southeast Asian focus, which I felt it was extremely valuable in building my pre-existing knowledge of the Southeast Asian film canon. It helped me recognise the importance of the work of the Asian Film Archive in preserving and collecting Southeast Asian films from the region. The history of film in the region is nascent yet so rich and having an ever-growing collection to document the historical and contemporary film scene is so imperative.
When I entered this internship, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect from it. Instead, what I experienced over the three months was beyond my expectations. It has given me a fresh appreciation for the work of film archivists who must be patient, inquisitive and tenacious as they delve into the seemingly unimportant nitty gritty details that can reveal so much about a film.
Thank you to the collections team, Tee Pao, Matthew, and Ping, for guiding me through my time at the Archive and for sharing your experiences with me!