On November 4-7, I attended the Association of Moving Image Archivists’ (AMIA) Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  Since AMIA is based in the US, and most of its conferences are held here, most attendees are American or Canadian.  A handful of participants from larger archiving institutions around the world also usually attend.

There are, however, many more individuals and organizations with at-risk media collections that could benefit from the expertise and skills exchanged at the conference. Recognizing this need to reach out, share knowledge, and collaborate with other moving image archivists and archiving organizations, especially those in parts of the world where resources and formal training opportunities are most lacking, many AMIA members are involved in initiatives with an international focus.

At the conference, I attended a report-back session from two projects that are part of the Audio-Visual Preservation Exchange (APEX), founded by Professor Mona Jimenez at New York University.  The first project that Mona discussed was an ongoing exchange between NYU and various national media institutions in Ghana. This year, it included a weeklong workshop in Accra for staff at Ghanaian broadcasting organizations, and a summer internship for a NYU student.

In her introduction to the session, Mona highlighted archival training as a key identified need, and noted the value of in-person communication and consultation. Ishumael Zinyengere, audiovisual archivist for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was one of the trainers on the APEX Ghana team. While he missed his presentation due to a delayed flight, Ishumael’s excellent PowerPoint re-iterated the potential long-term impact of archival training and awareness-building, especially in regions like Africa where there are presently no technical schools for archive studies nor funding from institutions and governments.  While championing international training opportunities sponsored by organizations like AMIA, ICCROM, and IASA, he also stressed the important task of sustaining relationships once they are established through ongoing networking and follow-up.

NYU student Jenn Blaylock then discussed her summer internship in Accra, during which she worked with over 5000 films at the Information Services Department (IDS) of the Ministry of Information.  Having to inspect and clean films with limited access to archival supplies, Jenn learned invaluable skills in how to improvise with materials at hand.

The second APEX initiative, organized by NYU professor Dan Streible and Natalia Fidelholtz, took place in partnership with the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires and its director (and former WITNESS Archivist!) Paula Felix-Didier. Dan and Natalia solicited donations of supplies from various archival vendors and assembled a media archivist “dream team” to spend a week at the Museo to process film collections, replace shelving, organize storage areas, set up film inspection benches, consult with Museo catalogers and train Museo staff. Natalia and Paula both emphasized how essential the contributions and in-kind donations from the international archival community were to the success of the project.

At the close of the session, APEX member Kara Van Malssen noted that while providing training opportunities is important to enabling local preservation efforts, there is also a great need for playback equipment. In Ghana, for example, there was not a single operational U-Matic deck to be found. Kara urged AMIA members with unused equipment to consider donating their machines.

As an organization, AMIA participates in international efforts via its International Outreach Committee.  You can read more about its charge here. At the meeting of the committee this year, members reported back on various international gatherings, including IASA, CCAAA, SEAPAVAA, and World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. Of note, IASA and AMIA will be holding a joint conference together next year in Philadelphia.  A meeting attendee speaking on behalf of a radio and television archive in Northern Serbia bombed in 1999 raised a point about the pressing need for archival training and supplies in that region, and encouraged AMIA to form a group of archivists to travel there.  Paolo Cherchi-Usai then spoke about the Haghefilm Foundation, which supports individuals and institutions who wish to get training in film preservation at the Haghefilm labs in the Netherlands. Following Paolo, Ujwal Nirgudkar, advisor to the National Film Archive of India, reported on a current film and video survey and preservation project. They hope to restore an Indian film from 1899 next year that will help raise funds and international awareness for their collections. Finally, Kara Van Malssen announced the upcoming SOIMA course in India organized by ICCROM.

Besides the International Outreach Committee, AMIA also participates in international outreach by co-sponsoring the AMIA/Rockefeller Visiting Archivist Fellowship. The Fellowship is awarded each year to a professional archivist from the developing world interested in sharing skills and knowledge.  This year, Naomi Kariu from the Ghana National Film & Television Archive received the fellowship. In a discussion about the challenges that her archive faces, Naomi spoke about the lack of awareness about archives’ needs and standards, most problematically among those in the country charged with making decisions about archives.  She also noted that many people seemed to be working on projects and trying to solve problems on their own, without coming together to collaborate or share knowledge. Her astute observations no doubt resonated with conference participants from other parts of the world!

– Yvonne

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