Friday, December 2, 2011

Sharing European cinematographic heritage

The popularity of content sharing websites like YouTube has led to an expectation from the general public that moving image archives should be able to make all their holdings available on-line. A reasonable expectation you might think, but making material available in this way is much more difficult than most casual viewers might imagine. 

Once Upon a Tram

Like many moving image archives, the IFI Irish Film Archive does not own the rights for 99.9 % of the material is holds, so must seek permission from the copy right owners of each piece of footage it wants to make available to the public on a case-by-case basis. In addition to the resource implications of this process, rights holders are understandably wary of their personal collections being available in a manner over which they have no control, and of course the misappropriation and reuse of material without the owners’ permission is another big concern. As archivists we have to try and find a balance between making the collections we hold widely available to the public and protecting the rights and goodwill of the people who have entrusted their films into our care.

In recent years the IFI Irish Film Archive has published a number of DVDs with the aim of bringing our collections to a wider audience and we also recently began to work with the Europa FilmTreasures project which encourages European citizens to discover their shared European cinematographic heritage.  The project is the brain-child of Serge Bromberg, founder of Paris-based Lobster Films. Serge had long been aware of the meticulous work being undertaken by film archives throughout Europe and of the difficulties that existed in making this work available to a wider public. He felt that an online project that respected the rights of the copyright holders and used anti-copying and anti-downloading security measures, would give film archives a democratic way to highlight their collections in an international context.

Once Upon a Tram

The IFI Irish Film Archive currently has 4 titles available to watch on the site, with more being added all the time. Each film is translated into French, German, Italian and Spanish to ensure it is accessible to as many European citizens as possible.  Our most popular film is Once Upon a Tram (1959) which to date has received over 20,000 viewings. Produced by Leinster Studios, Once Upon a Tram looks at one of the last journeys of the Howth Tram and is a record of an elegant and leisurely form of transport of a by-gone era. The film was made with the realisation that trams were about to become a thing of the past in Dublin, with the opening scenes of the film featuring shots of tram lines in Dublin’s city centre being dug up. Once Upon  A Tram focuses on the different people who make use of this mode of transport and is narrated by Cyril Cusack.

Also on view on the EFT website are Voyage to Recovery (1953) and  Tony Bacillus and Co (1943) These films were part of a series of educational and public information films made by the National Film Institute (now the IFI) in the 1940s and 1950s on behalf of the department of Health.

Voyage To Recovery

Voyageto Recovery aimed to demystify and de-stigmatise TB and its treatment.  It features Brian (Joe Lynch) a middle class family man and loving husband, who is undergoing treatment and convalescence in one of the government’s modern and well equipped TB sanatoriums. By refusing to be ashamed of his illness, Brian addresses the prejudices that existed in the public consciousness at that time regarding the disease. The film subtly reassures the public that the government was dealing with the problem of TB in an effective manner.

Tony Bacillus & Co

The second title Tony Bacillus & Co (1946) is a comical public information film about the threat of tuberculosis in which TB is represented by a menacing puppet, who attempts to infect a little boy puppet by placing various hazards - spitting, coughing and drinking unpasteurised milk - in his path. However, the boy puppet is well versed in disease prevention and T. Bacillus is foiled. Last year this film was chosen by the Europa Film Treasures project to have a score written by Anaïs-Gaëll Lozac'h and recorded by the prestigious Paris Conservatoire, and this addition greatly enhances the viewer’s enjoyment of the film.

Ciall Cheannaigh

Our latest addition to the project Ciall Cheannaigh (1969) is a delightful and quirky film made by Guinness brewery employee Mike Lawlor as part of the company’s Film Club, and takes a humorous look at the then recent phenomenon of shopping centres in Ireland. Showing the hustle and bustle of shoppers in Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt, the film accurately captures burgeoning consumer society and is a charming portrait of Irish suburban life in the late 1960s.  On the look-out for bargains are a motley group of shoppers ranging from a priest and his housekeeper, grocery-shopping young couples, lingerie-buying ladies and children of all ages. The excitement of this new shopping experience is further conveyed by a frenetic soundtrack by renowned traditional Irish musician Dónal Lunny.

To see the films mentioned above visit the EFT website and we will let you know of any new additions to the project.

Kasandra O'Connell
Head of IFI Irish Film Archive

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