10.09.2013 - UNESCO Office in Santiago

Ray Edmondson on Audiovisual Archiving and Heritage: challenges of the present

The 10th National Encounter of Audio-Visual Archives in Colombia (X-ENAA) was held in Bogota from 26-31 August, with the central theme of “Audio-visual heritage in the digital age”. The guest of honour at the event was Ray Edmondson, Principal at Archive Associates.

After graduating in Arts and Librarianship at the University of New South Wales, Ray joined the Film Section of the National Library of Australia in 1968. In 1973 he established and led its new Film Archive Unit. In 1978 he became overall head of the Library's Film Section. Described as the 'moving spirit' behind the creation of the National Film and Sound Archive in 1984, he served as its Deputy Director until 2001, when he was endowed as its first honorary Curator Emeritus. During this public service career he devised and led corporately funded film restorations and pioneering programs like The Last Film Search and Operation Newsreel.

His service as chair or board member of various professional or community organisations has been wide ranging and have included The Federation Line Inc., Music Roll Australia, Archive Forum and the Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive. Internationally, he served as inaugural President of SEAPAVAA (South East Asia Pacific AudioVisual Archive Association) from 1996 to 2002, and remains ex-officio Council member. He presently leads AMIA's Advocacy Task Force and co-chairs its International Outreach Task Force.

Since 1996 he has been involved in UNESCO's Memory of the World Program, authoring its current General Guidelines, and presently serves on its national, regional and international committees.

Could you explain the collaborative relationship between UNESCO and the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (CCAAA) to preserve audiovisual archives in the world?
The CCAAA meets under UNESCO’s auspices. Its members have their own formal relations with UNESCO. Nevertheless, UNESCO encouraged its formation and Joie Springer of CI attends the CCAAA’s annual meeting, which usually is in Paris. The members of CCAAA (IASA, ARSC, FIAT, SEAPAVAA, FOCAL, AMIA, ICA and IFLA) send their president or a senior officer to represent them. The main ongoing activities are the annual World Day for AV Heritage and the maintenance of the CCAAA website as an information portal

Every few years, UNESCO has co-funded, with the hosting member, the CCAAA´s Joint Technical Symposiums, which typically attract over a 100 specialist. The CCAAA has a formal bond with the Memory of the World program, and provides an AV expert to serve on the International Advisory Committee’s Register Subcommittee, which researches all incoming nominations for the International MOW Register.

The CCAAA also keeps an overview on strategic policy and coordination issues relevant to the profession, such as intellectual property, training and - an intermittent topic of recent years- strengthening UNESCO’s support for the field by updating the existing (1980) “Recommendation on the Preservation of Moving Images”, which has become less effective because of changing technology. My “Philosophy” book, back in 2004, was prepared under the joint auspices of the CCAAA and UNESCO.   

How many audiovisual archives are there in the Memory of the World Program? Can you identify some common characteristics?
If one takes the international, regional and national registers together, my guess  would be between 30 and 40 AV inscriptions.  Not nearly enough! We could have a long discussion on why this is so (party shyness on behalf of the archives, partly the traditional cultural orientation of many committee members, partly other things) but we continue to work on it. One recent inscription on the International Register is a moving image archive collection from Timor Leste, documenting – with its entire trauma – the birth of this young country. It’s the first time East Timor has appeared on any register, and it has been a source of immense national pride. When one looks over the AV inscriptions they make an impressive lot – but there could be so many more!  

The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is held on 27 October and theme this year is “Saving our heritage for the next generation”.  What kind of activities are you expecting in the countries?
It varies. It could be public presentations of some kind, such as film screenings or lectures. It could be the launch of a product, such as a DVD, CD or book. It could be the platform for a policy announcement in relation to an archive or the AV heritage generally in the country concerned. In several countries I expect there would be a media space – editorials or a TV news feature.

Why do you think that your book “Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles“needs a new edition?
I think it needs a new edition for two reasons. The digital “shift” needs to be engaged philosophically and practically at a much greater length because circumstances have changed so much since 2004 – for example the decline in manufacture of film stock, the shift of production from film to digital, the move within archives towards digital restoration techniques, and so on. It’s not that conceptual fundamentals have changed – it seems to me they really haven’t – but their application in changing circumstances has changed. The second reason is one of perception: people think the world has changed radically with digitization. This perception needs to be recognized but it also needs to be rooted back into fundamental principles and ethics which don’t change.

In late August you participated in the X National Encounter of Audio-Visual Archives in Colombia. Can you identify the characteristics of the LAC region in relation to AV Heritage?
This is difficult to answer because my knowledge of the AV heritage of the LAC region is so limited. In the Caribbean I think there are some great financial needs and material is at risk. In Bolivia, as we know, the cinemateca is under threat because of other political agendas, which appear quite arbitrary. I suspect such threats to organisational continuity are not limited to Bolivia. Again, there seems to be a custom in many countries that when a new government takes power, senior posts in memory institutions are vacated and much corporate memory and expertise is lost. On the other hand, the government supported network in Colombia, with its annual conference, seems to work effectively and to build a “constituency” for the preservation of AV heritage – a model worth emulating in other countries, and not necessarily limited to LAC. A UNESCO-sponsored “state of the art” study on the state of AV heritage across the whole of LAC could be an extremely useful exercise strategically and politically for all concerned.

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