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An Amplify visit to the Archive

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Last week we teamed up with the Scottish Moving Image Archive and our Amplify cohort to dive into all things archive. A suitably spooky display greeted us with witchy animations and Halloween hauntings on the big screen, and talk turned to ways to bring archive to new audiences in member cinemas.

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Something to remember about archive film is that it’s an ongoing, ‘living’ process, with moving image being archived up to the present, and from recent living memory (serving as a somewhat disquieting reminder that the 90s were 30 years ago). This includes studio-made feature films as well as home videos, news footage, commercials, shorts and artist film. Dr Emily Munro led a discussion about the different uses of archive film – as part of a live music performance, an exhibition, a festival, a local heritage event, as inspiration for a contemporary programmer, or online. Connotations of the word ‘archive’, perhaps conjuring black-and-white images and muted sound, can lead to younger audiences being less inclined to engage or explore an archive programme. So, how to open up this fascinating, vital living resource to new audiences, and add value to an existing cinema programme?

The NMIA’s extensive collection (available to explore online here) is a gateway to a multitude of moments; living, breathing, singing, dancing records of Scottish social, political and cultural history. As a programmer looking to incorporate archive into your central cinema programme, any theme or subject on contemporary cinema screens is represented in the collection; feminism, music, love, war, protest, family, landscape, memory and political movements. We discussed the importance of place and local ties; almost every locale in Scotland is represented in the archive. A short featuring the ‘beheading’ of Mary Queen of Scots (featuring some early SFX trickery) was identified as a great opener to the upcoming Saoirse Ronan feature – drawing a line from Scottish history to mainstream blockbuster. 

Ali Strauss from the Hippodrome cinema in Bo’ness and silent film festival HippFest, emphasised the importance of talking to your audience about the films you’ve chosen, pointing out unusual details and characters, placing the films in their historical context, or leading a discussion about the people and places featured. We can’t underestimate the impact of seeing oneself, a family member, or old haunt on the big screen. Shona Thomson, of A Kind of Seeing, whose most recent project Assunta Spina has toured Scotland from Glasgow to Inverness, led a workshop on local engagement and programming. She emphasised the importance of working within your community – talking to people, considering the landscapes and seascapes around you, partnering with local charities and societies, and opening up the conversation - let the people in the films tell their stories!

As for those elusive young audiences — why not invite a group of young programmers to curate their own collections from the archive and explore pertinent issues of identity and politics; assembling a narrative of the current moment in relation to contemporary cinema. The Glasgow Women’s Library has done some fascinating work with archive film, including resurrecting the first women’s film festival (held in Edinburgh in 1972) and using objects to explore feminist histories on screen. Adding a contemporary or experimental soundtrack to archive footage is a brilliant way of combining past and present, illuminating forgotten films in a new light.

After plenty of discussion and delving into the archive, we left with plenty of ideas for touring programmes, events, partnerships and new ways to think about incorporating archive into a cinema programme. Watch this space…

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