Friday, September 17, 2010

IFI on Tubridy

Quite a busy end to the week for the IFI. In addition to our participation in the Action Day for the National Campaign for the Arts, I had the pleasure of chatting to Ryan Tubridy on his show this morning about the work of the IFI Irish Film Archive. I first met Ryan when he was in looking at film footage of JFK while researching his soon-to-be-published book. He came into the Archive to watch material from our collections and was particularly taken with a home movie shot by Irish-American Ed White that showed the young Senator Kennedy marching in a St Patrick's Day parade in Massachusetts in 1956. For him it proved that JFK was genuinely interested in (and celebrated) his Irish heritage.

Following on from his enthusiastic reaction to our collections, we asked Ryan to introduce our Home Movie Heritage Day which was part of Heritage Week. It was the first event of its kind in Ireland and  marked the end of a project that we had undertaken in conjunction with UCC that concentrated on the amateur film collections held at the IFI. The project was funded by the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences and allowed us to spend the last year viewing, cataloguing and digitising non-professional films in our collections; footage that often had been unviewed until this project came about. In addition to the features, newsreels and documentaries, you might expect to find in a national moving image archive, the IFI Irish Film Archive has a large and incredibly rich collection of amateur-made films. Ireland doesn’t have as rich a history of indigenous professional production as other western countries, which makes these non-professional representations all the more significant. This material gives us an alternative view of Ireland; one that reflects the personal interests of members of the population which are often are the only record of a specific event, place or particular aspect of history, culture and society.  Over time these films can grow in value and meaning - a film of a family or local event may now be a fascinating record of a custom that has died out or of a landscape that has altered beyond recognition, even though this information was incidental to the filmmakers at intention at the time of filming.

Ryan, who is a history buff, was enthusiastic about the importance of these personal records and the need to preserve them, and mentioned that he would like to do a slot about the project on his radio show. True to his word he invited Michael Coyne and me onto the show this morning to talk about the IFI Irish Film Archive and the significance of amateur films as a historical record. Michael, an Irishman who emigrated to America in 1962, donated one of the most fascinating collections we hold -  8mm films he took in Vietnam from the back of his tank when operating as a rear gunner on a M48 tank in mid-1967. The footage is exceptional and gives an insight into his experiences along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Ryan was really fascinated by Michael's experiences and the fact that he had been able to record them for posterity and that they are now being preserved in the IFI Irish Film Archive.

Hopefully the interview helped to draw attention to the work of the Archive and the collections we hold, and encourage other amateur filmmakers, like Michael, to contact us about their hidden film treasures.

If you'd like to hear the piece click here.

Kasandra O'Connell
Head of IFI Irish Film Archive

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