Tuesday, September 11, 2012

IFI20: Irish Film Archive

It is hard now to imagine the primitive origins of the wonderful resource that is the Irish Film Archive and its important collection of Irish audio-visual material. The unlikely hero who first archived Irish-themed cinema material was none other than Irish film censor James Montgomery, who, in the 1930s, began collecting prints of Irish interest newsreels after they had completed their cinema run.

IFI Irish Film Archive & Library building

These and other films found their way to the National Library of Ireland where the pioneer archivist George Morrison catalogued the collection in the 1950s as part of the research which led to his hugely important actuality feature films Mise Eire (1959) and Saoirse? (1961).

By then, Irish filmmaker and critic Liam O’Leary was working at the British Film Institute archive where he began to collect Irish-themed films, and, in the absence of a proper Irish film archive, upon his return to Dublin in the 1960s channeled Irish films to the BFI for safe keeping, while the newly-established Telefis √Čireann became custodian of the National Library films and other Irish-themed material.

In the meantime, as a by-product of its activities as a distributor of educational films, the National Film Institute of Ireland, which had been established in the mid-1940s, and had been the producer of many government-sponsored films, contained in its catalogue of over 4,000 films as many as 500 Irish productions, which were first listed separately in 1982 in an unpublished ‘Irish Film Catalogue’. This collection would form the bedrock of what would grow within thirty years to the current collection of 20,000 cans of films.

Recognising that without a properly equipped film archive, the group of activists who were members of the Irish Film Institute board in the 1980s put the establishment of the archive at the centre of the re-development of the Eustace Street premises. As that project was being realized, the Irish film collection was moved from one location to another (from Harcourt St to North Frederick St to Dame St) before finding its permanent home in the newly-equipped Irish Film Archive in 1992.  As a result, researchers no longer have to travel to foreign film archives to view Irish film material.

What is the challenge for the future? It is to reverse the experience of Irish film researchers of the past: to find a way, as other film archives are doing, to make the Irish film collection available online for the whole world to view, without anyone having to come to Ireland to view it!

Kevin Rockett

Irish film historian Kevin Rockett was Chairman of the Irish Film Institute, 1984–91, and is now a Professor in Film Studies, Trinity College Dublin.

We are throwing open the doors of the IFI Irish Film Archive and will be running tours throughout the month for all to enjoy. Ever seen an Emmy or an Oscar? If not, this is your chance to see one up close!

The Pop Up Museum will be open all day on Thursday, Sept 13th & Friday, Sept 14th in the Tiernan MacBride Library at the IFI; no tickets required.

The Archive Tours will start at set times (11.00 and 15.30) on Thursday, September 13th and Friday, 14th. They are on a first come first served basis, no need to book. 

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