Friday, September 21, 2012

Sitting and standing at the IFI

I've been sitting in the IFI for a long time. I was there when it opened in Temple Bar, sitting at screenings, festivals, and conferences as a student; sitting and looking up at stellar faces in the worlds of film and film education from Dennis Hopper to Frederic Jameson; sitting in the bar, even when there was dancing there, talking with my classmates after sitting upstairs in what is now Cinema 3, where we took some of our MA classes as part of a partnership with UCD. Then I spent a lot of time sitting in the archive and the library while I conducted my PhD research. I sat leafing through old magazines and the miscellaneous paper records charting the scattered history of Irish documentary film. I sat reading rare books on Irish film, and less rare magazines that I couldn't afford to buy. I sat at a Steenbeck in the bowels of the building, with Liam and Sunniva looking over my shoulder while I made handwritten notes on films sometimes no one else had seen. I sat in the viewing room too, heaps of Beta and VHS tapes coming in waves from the collection, together with support and advice, hints and directions that helped to shape my onward journey as a student. Somewhere along the way I started standing up. 

Dr. Harvey O'Brien & IFI Director Ross Keane (Photo by Alina Radko)

I found myself standing in front of the crowds as well as sitting among them, saying things about my research, talking about movies in general, giving classes in the meeting room on documentary, animation, film noir... anything, really; speaking to kids on the education programme about the joys of writing film reviews, fronting the Keeping it Real conference with Ruth Barton, both of us wearing long leather jackets at the opening panel. It wasn't planned, I swear. 
Then I was standing at my book launches, making speeches about the slow disappearance of good will in academia while thanking those at the IFI that had shown more than a little of it during the years I was sitting in that library and that archive. 

IFI Irish Film Archive

Eventually, it was a no-brainer that I would try to repay a little of what I felt I owed the IFI by serving on the Board. When I put my name forward my undergraduate mentor and teacher Stephanie McBride, then about to retire from active duty herself, greeted the news by saying to me "I hear you're standing." 

I'm still to be found sitting though. I'm sitting on the Board now, having stood for it after all, and I sit on the sub-committee on education and archive. I'm also frequently found there during the Summer semester, when my students have a saying "If it's Thursday, it must be Harvey", and you'll find me conducting a series of research consultations a couple of feet from where I did it all myself. 

To me the IFI has always been a place for learning, sitting or standing, and it's great to be part of it during the 20th celebrations. It's been quite a journey. I may need to lie down.

Harvey O’Brien 

Film Studies Lecturer at University College Dublin and author of The Real Ireland: The Evolution of Ireland in Documentary Film and co-editor of Keeping it Real: Irish Film and Television

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