For a few weeks during June, 2015, I was the first MIAS student to be part of NYU-MIAP’S Audiovisual Preservation Exchange program in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My 16 days spent in Buenos Aires allowed me to reflect on the problematic politics of preservation currently at play in Latin America, as well as establish connections with the archivists who are passionately fighting to preserve Latin American cinematic heritage, regardless of these obstacles.
Most of my time in Buenos Aires was spent working in El Museo del Cine Pablo Ducros Hicken’s film archive. This prestigious institution was founded in 1972 to preserve Argentina’s rich film heritage and currently houses over 250,000 objects such as photographs, film scripts, technical equipment and of course, film prints. Like many institutions here at home, el Museo del Cine is always accepting new materials, regardless of their dwindling amount of resources and space. However, despite El Museo’s many challenges, particularly the lack of funding from the Ministry of Culture, the staff remains exuberant in their work and are passionate about preserving their cinematic past.
The focus of the APEX trip to Buenos Aires was to work with three distinct film collections within el Museo, along with another group that worked specifically with the magnetic tape collections of CANAL 7 (TV Pública) under the supervision of Jim Lindner. I was lucky enough to be placed on the nitrate team and spent my time processing a portion of the archive’s fairly large nitrate film collection. This was especially exciting because the collection contains elements from many other collections from the archive such as the Navy and Peña Rodríguez collections and thus contained a mixed bag of films such as educational films, silent shorts, and newsreels. The vast amount of nitrate housed in the Archive was enough to warrant a separate vault purely for nitrate film, where the temperatures and humidity levels are kept low.
By mere chance, the nitrate team consisted of four media archivists from four distinct media preservation programs, including Kate Cronin (Selznick School of Film Preservation), Allison Whallen (MIAP), Lydia Pappas (the University of East Anglia), and myself. With our different backgrounds and experiences with media preservation, we were able to approach our project from various perspectives, eventually learning a great deal from one another. However, while we collectively set goals for our project, we were also thoughtful of the workflows already established by el Museo’s archivists and worked together with them to create more effective preservation strategies.
For the most part, the greatest challenge faced by each team was time-management. The Nitrate Collection consisted of 477 film cans, of which it was imperative that we processed as many as we were able to, given the short period of time, available space and resources to work with. We also wanted to do our work thoroughly and well, as we were all aware of the need to properly process elements and eliminate the need to return to them in the future. For each film that we were able to inspect, clean, process and return to the vaults, we were able to gather the following information, using the sheets provided by the archive: content descriptions; title card information; condition of film; work done to the film; and technical information such as color, sound, gauge, length, aspect ratio, etc.
Ultimately, we were only able to process 74 film cans within the span of two weeks. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the films were in very good condition, and none were unsalvageable. One of the most exciting finds were two newsreels in Ferraniacolor, a subtractive 3 monopack color process that none of us had ever encountered before, as well as a beautifully tinted print of the educational film La mosca y sus peligros (1920).
Although we processed fewer cans than we anticipated, I believe that our work will help el Museo better understand their nitrate collection and allow them to begin prioritizing certain films for potential preservation or digitization. Hopefully the work we began can be continued, and these collections can finally be made accessible to researchers in the near future.