Learning to Preserve Moving Images in Amsterdam

Caylin Smith, a North American student in the master’s program in Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam, reports on her experience there.

I am usually met with a puzzled expression when I tell people that I am pursuing my master’s degree in moving image archival studies, since it is not a common degree. However, it is one that relates to many established and emerging cultural fields.

I developed a strong understanding of cultural, film, and media theory during my undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and became interested in archiving while completing two internships that dealt specifically with audiovisual collections. I was torn, though, when it came time to apply to master’s programs: film was my passion, but I was also becoming increasingly interested in archival practice. A moving image archival studies program offered me the opportunity to explore both my interests at the scholarly level.

These master’s programs are currently offered at four academic institutions, each with its own approaches and strengths: Moving Image Archiving & Presentation at New York University; Moving Image Archive Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles; The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at George Eastman House and the University of Rochester; and Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam, which is where I am currently pursuing my degree.

I chose to study at the University of Amsterdam because its program assumes both a theoretical and a practical approach to the study of film, media, and archiving. The programs at NYU and UCLA also try to incorporate both aspects, but I wanted the opportunity to study outside North America with Dutch and international students. Although the Preservation and Presentation program is taught at a Dutch university, its courses are entirely in English.

EYE Film Institute, Netherlands
The arts are an integral part of Dutch culture, and living in Amsterdam allows Preservation and Presentation students to further pursue their interests outside the classroom. Students are also encouraged to attend festivals in nearby countries, including the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Pordenone, Italy, where they have the opportunity to meet students and scholars, as well as film and media professionals, from all over the world. There are many networking opportunities even before the program’s internship component begins.

I recently completed the program’s first three courses: Film Theory: Body, Senses, and the Moving Image; Theory, Archives, and Media, which provides a foundation for students who have not studied film and/or archives at the scholarly level; as well as Preservation and Presentation 1, which was taught by Mark-Paul Meyer and Giovanna Fossati, two curators at EYE Film Institute Netherlands. EYE Film is the product of four now-defunct institutions: the Film Bank, Holland Film, Dutch Institute for Film Education, and Nederlands Filmmuseum. It is renowned for its silent film collection, as well as its contributions to preservation and digital access.

This was the last time that the Preservation and Presentation 1 course would be taught at a beautiful nineteenth century theater in Vondelpark, since EYE will relocate to its new home in North Amsterdam this spring. My peers and I also had the opportunity to visit EYE’s lab, where we worked with curators and examined rolls of nitrate film. These trips also allowed students to meet professionals who work in EYE’s digital access and restoration departments. Some of these employees are even graduates of the Preservation and Presentation program.

Photos by Caylin Smith
I am currently completing Preservation and Presentation 2, which is taught by members of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and gives students the opportunity to examine the policy side to film, television, music, and radio archiving, as well as Media Archaeology, a theory course that examines the evolution of various types of audiovisual media. The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision also provides students with a first look at the presentation side of the program before it is further studied during the second semester. This is primarily achieved with the Experience, which is Sound and Vision’s interactive multimedia museum.

In the second semester, students shadow professionals in various media-related fields. They will also begin the preliminary work on their theses before beginning 10-to-14 week internship placements. Past graduates have completed internships in the Netherlands and abroad at institutions such as EYE Film, Witness in New York City, and the BBC and British Museum in London.

The program, which was originally founded in 2003 by renowned film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, is in its ninth year, and is currently undergoing some structural changes that will take effect in fall 2012. It will still be 18 months long, but will feature new courses, such as Collection and Collection Management, Preservation and Restoration, and Access and Reuse. These changes will refocus the archival courses on the phases of the working process in (digital) audiovisual archives. Students will also be able to take electives and thus specialize in a specific direction of audiovisual archiving or presentation.

For the first time, some of the program’s courses will be offered as electives to students who are pursuing other master’s degrees. This will provide students in other programs with an understanding of the tasks that film and media archivists, programmers, and curators undertake, as well as hopefully generate discussion among students from various academic backgrounds.

The Preservation and Presentation program also reacts to changing trends in regards to film and media. Pursuing this degree continually provokes me to consider film’s ever-evolving ontology, especially since Panavision and ARRI recently announced that they will now be devoting their efforts entirely to developing digital cameras.

We will see what effect that decision, as well as various digital ventures, will have on film production, presentation, and archival practices. This discussion is for another article, but the current moment, when a rupture between analog and digital is taking place, is an interesting time to be studying and researching job opportunities.

Information on applying to this program can be found on the University of Amsterdam’s Humanities website. Applicants are expected to have a bachelor’s degree in the field of film and/or media culture, or another university degree combined with relevant work experience. See MIAN’s article about the Amsterdam program.

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