Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Behind the scenes at the IFI Irish Film Archive

Over the summer months the IFI Irish Film Archive will be undertaking a major digital infrastructure upgrade project that will radically improve its ability to collect, preserve and make accessible the digital collections which it is acquiring in ever increasing quantities. Thanks to the assistance of the Department of Arts Heritage & the Gaeltacht the installation of high speed fibre optic cabling and new editing and ingestion equipment will see the archive expand its capacity to take in borne digital material and to create high resolution digital copies of the film and tape materials that it already holds.

On the cusp of this exciting development we felt it was an opportune time to go behind the scenes of the IFI Irish Film Archive and meet the people who care for our National Moving Image Collections.

Kasandra O'Connell

Kasandra O’Connell, Head of the IFI Irish Film Archive: “As Head of the Archive I have overall responsibility for strategy, policy and the technical development of the Archive. Over the last five years there has been a dramatic shift from an analogue environment to a digital one and the IFI Irish Film Archive, along with most other Archives around the world, is faced with the challenge of preserving and managing Digital collections to ensure their longevity. As most films and their accompanying materials are now being created and distributed in a digital format it is critical that we address this problem quickly to ensure no relevant material is lost.  This infrastructure project is the first phase of our Digital Preservation and Access Strategy and is a crucial development for us as it is the technical foundation upon which we will build our digital policies and procedures, thus ensuring we can continue to care for the remarkable collections we have responsibility for and make them more widely available in the future through new technology based access solutions.’’

Raelene Casey

Raelene Casey, Moving Image Access Officer: “My job is to find ways to make the content of the archive more accessible to all member of the public both commercially and non-commercially. We’re a not-for- profit private company, but we hold Ireland’s National Film Heritage in our care. As a result we need to strike a balance between providing commercial access to the collections and making sure our shared film heritage is available to everyone who wishes to explore it. As my colleagues and I are navigating the nascent waters of digital preservation and access we’re exploring ways to make this balance possible within the resources available to us. If you’ve any questions about accessing footage from the archive or fees involved, please email me.”

Columb Gilna

Columb Gilna, Collections Officer: “There are many different aspects to the job of a CO at the IFA. One minute I’m working with a roll of 16mm Black and White film from the 1930s (from our physical/analogue collection) and the next it’s a “.mov” file (from our digital asset collection). But it all boils down to collection care; through tracking, examination, documentation and correct storage. Our job is to follow best practice in preservation and collection management. Only then can the notion of sustained access become a reality.”

Vincent Kearney

Vincent Kearney, Archive Assistant: “As an archive assistant, I register and make technical assessments of film material being considered for inclusion in the Archive’s collections. Once a decision regarding acquisition has been made, I catalogue items joining the collections and prepare them for storage.”

Anja Mahler

Anja Mahler, Collections Assistant: “I am responsible for documentation and care of acquisitions from organisations with whom we have an archiving agreement, such as the Irish Film Board, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and The Arts Council.  In my work I oversee condition assessment, accessioning, cataloguing, preserving and annual assessments of materials on 35mm film and tape carrier.  A digital infrastructure would allow for deposits to be in high resolution file format instead of tape, employing a Digital Asset Management System that will be of benefit to all processes involved in archiving film heritage.”

Gavin Martin

Gavin Martin, Collections Officer: “I am responsible for digitising the Archive’s Film Collections. My remit is to preserve or in some cases restore the image quality of the films I am turning into digital assets; these are then held as large uncompressed preservation files and as smaller digital access files which can be accessed by a variety of users. This upgrade will enable me to deal with much larger file formats that our current workflow allows for and I will also be able to undertake more sophisticated and extensive restoration projects.”

Manus McManus

Manus McManus, Senior Collections Officer: “I oversee the technical and preservation management of the Archive collections, liaise with film depositors and post-production facilities, and support the Head of the Archive in developing and implementing Archive strategy, policy and procedures. I will be assisting in adapting and expanding our collections-management policy to embrace the Archive’s new digital assets.”

Anita Ní Nualláin

Anita Ní Nualláin, Archive Assistant: “I am currently registering and cataloguing one of the largest non-professional collections in the Archive. I also check the condition of film material going out to and returning from screenings, and performs audits of at-risk material in the collections.”

Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

Eilís Ní Raghallaigh, Library Assistant: “As a library assistant in the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Tiernan MacBride Library, as well as supporting the librarian in the delivery of the library service, I am updating the library’s clippings archive and write a monthly library blog.

Eoin O'Donohoe

Eoin O’Donohoe, Acquisitions/Compliance Assistant: “I assist with the incoming Irish Film Board and Broadcasting Authority of Ireland collections, mostly dealing with digital video tape. A large part of the role is carrying out condition assessment of the material to ensure that only the best quality tapes enter into the archive. Following the accession and cataloguing process, the material finds a permanent home on the shelves in the vault.”

Kieran O'Leary

Kieran O’Leary, Collections & Access Assistant: “I help to facilitate access to the archive’s holdings. The digital refurb will allow greater access to the collections, both within the building and off-site, as well as adding an extra dimension of preservation.”

Fiona Rigney

Fiona Rigney, Librarian and Document Archivist: “As the Librarian and Document Archivist I am responsible for the care of our Special collections and library. I also provide access and research assistance to everyone who uses the library and paper archive.   The Library holds one of the largest collections of film related publications in Ireland and the document collections provide contextual information on the production and history of Irish film, the Irish film industry, and film exhibition in Ireland; they consist of press clippings, filmmakers’ correspondence, production notes, images and posters.  All our collections are available to the public, for more information on our collections and our opening hours please visit the Library page”.

Learn more about the IFI Irish Film Archive and visit our website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Female Gaze: Heroines of Irish Cinema Portrayed by its Female Directors

This month, the IFI examines the work of women in film and the representation of women on film in Beyond the Bechdel Test throughout July. Related activities include panel discussions, screenings of archival footage from the IFI’s Irish Film Archive and a chance to see seminal films such as Pat Murphy’s Maeve on the big screen. It will come as no surprise then that this month’s blog from the IFI’s Tiernan MacBride Library focuses on four Irish films with female protagonists that are directed by women.

Mary Jackson in Maeve.
 Copyright 1981 BFI Production Board.

Pat Murphy on the set of Maeve.
 Copyright 1981 BFI Production Board.

Snakes and Ladders (1996)

Set in a modern, lively Dublin which prefigures stylish urban films such as About Adam, Trish McAdam’s debut feature explores the friendship between two street performers, Jean and Kate. The film was nine years in the making as the director’s perceived inexperience discouraged potential investors. Following various setbacks, Chris Sievernich (producer of The Dead) was so impressed by both McAdam’s script and by her tenacity that the project was finally brought to fruition. The film, described by McAdam as a “funny drama and a serious comedy” [1] explores friendship, romance and ambition from a female viewpoint. On its release, audiences responded positively to the authenticity of the film’s setting and characters, “for the first time I saw something on screen that resembled my own experience.” [2]

Gina Moxley and Pom Boyd in their roles as Jean and Kate in Snakes and Ladders.
 Copyright 1996 Livia Films.

Trish McAdam on the set of Snakes and Ladders.
 Copyright 1996 Livia Films.

Clare sa Spéir (2001)

In this short film, Audrey O’Reilly tells the story of harassed mother Clare who is under-appreciated by her five children and her self-involved husband. She removes herself from the drudgery of her domestic life by leaving the family home for the family tree house, in a bid to break a world record. The family’s shock and anger gradually transmute into a new-found respect for Clare’s needs and worth. O’Reilly explores familial tensions, evolving gender roles and the female psyche with humour and playfulness. The director’s playful sense of humour is present again in her tongue-in-cheek apology to the second level students studying her film as part of their curriculum who “consider Clare to be the Peig Sayers of the media section of the leaving-cert.” [3]

Clare’s bewildered family headed by Seán Mac Ginley as Eoin in Clare sa Spéir.
 Copyright 2001 Zanzibar Films.

Audrey O’Reilly surrounded by cast and crew on the set of Clare sa Spéir.
 Copyright 2001 Zanzibar Films. 

32A (2007)

Marian Quinn won the IFI’s Tiernan MacBride Screenwriting Award for her 32A script in 2002, and the feature won an award for Best First Film at the 2007 Galway Film Fleadh. It is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story based on Quinn’s experiences growing up in Dublin in the 1970s. Thirteen-year-old Maeve makes her first forays into adulthood as she experiences her first kiss, experiments with drugs and clashes with her friends. The authentic low-key period detail and the naturalistic performances captured in the film are impressive, especially in light of the fact that the film was shot in 28 days on a budget of only €1.5 million. Quinn’s determination and pragmatism are apparent in her advice to other budding filmmakers “never wait for permission and if need be always do it yourself.” [4]

Ailish McCarthy as Maeve in 32A.
 Copyright 1997 Janey Pictures.

Marian Quinn and Orla Brady on the set of 32A.
 Copyright 1997 Janey Pictures.

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey

Lelia Doolan’s documentary explores the political life of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement in 1960s and 1970s Belfast. Dubbed “Castro in a miniskirt” [5] by her detractors, she created a media furore in 1972 when she slapped the British Home Secretary in the face for suggesting that the paratroopers shot the Bloody Sunday protestors in self-defence. Doolan draws on archival footage and eight years of interviews with Devlin to create a compelling character study of a fiercely intelligent, articulate woman who weathered both an assassination attempt and distorted media portrayals of her actions. Doolan’s own integrity, enthusiasm and drive are captured by Gabriel Byrne’s description of her, “She can plamás, cajole, beg, borrow and sweetly bully. She is passionate about what she believes in but never self-serving.” [6]

Bernadette Devlin in a sea of policemen in Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey.
 Copyright 2011 Lelia Doolan.

Lelia Doolan attending an event in the IFI.
 Copyright 1997 Irish Film Institute.

By Eilís Ní Raghallaigh

The IFI Irish Film Archive’s clippings, image and document collections contain thousands of files and images relating to all aspects of Irish and Irish-interest film and television production. They are available to view in the Tiernan MacBride library within library opening hours, or by appointment with the librarian. Please contact the IFI librarian, Fiona Rigney, for more information.

[1] Eustace, S. (1998, February 4). Pierce Turner: movie star. Wexford Echo.
[2] Hayes, K. (1998, February 26). Snakes and Ladders. The Irish Times.
[3] O’Reilly, A. (n.d.) Me & my film. Clare-sa-Speir. Retrieved July 10th, 2014, from
[4] Barter, P. (2009, October 19). Finding her own route. Metro, pp. 12.
[5] Maguire, J. (2011, November 20). Modern fable hits a home run. Sunday Business Post, pp. 32.
[6] Farrelly, P. (2013, December). Lelia’s picture palace. Irish America. Retrieved July 10th, 2014 from