Wednesday 21 February 2018

The National Film & Sound Archive – more comment on CEO Jan Müller’s visionary plans.

Jan Muller
Editor's Note: An interesting debate has been opened up by the new CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive Jan Müller. The debate centres on Müller's already expressed desire to get the NFSA into a fit for purpose building and to get the Federal Government to put up the money to digitise the collection and thus make it far more accessible to the Australian people.

The discussion started with a front page report in The Canberra Times which you can read in the online edition here. You can read more on this blog if you click here and some additional comments from seasoned observers here 

Estimates are around that the total cost of digitising Australia’s total film heritage, not just the NFSA’s holdings, may cost $100+ million. The other archives holding film and audio include the War Memorial, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Australian National Archives, the last mentioned holding all Federal government production including the ABC’s archives. The holdings are substantial.

Other costs to be factored in, (and Dominic Case once mentioned the difficulty of attracting qualified staff to Canberra), would be the cold start-up of the currently absent infrastructure to do motion pictures, and the ongoing costs of data storage, migration and analogue cold  storage.

More than half of the NFSA’s 2.5 million items are on paper.

Jan Müller would know that the Dutch spent and will continue to spend nearly the equivalent of that $100 million for the work that Amsterdam’s EYE Film Institute and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision did and do. They already had job ready companies able to do the scanning.

Other concerns relate to maintaining the copying standards in the face of any push to do the job on the cheap. 

As for Jan Müller's public advocacy, this is not unknown in the sector. The most recent example was the way the Art Gallery of NSW commissioned plans for its new modern art wing and simply operated on the assumption that sooner or later the money would be/will be stumped up. It had no advance commitments but its relentless PR machine has been most effective.

Whether the bean-counters of the Federal Government and indeed the Ministers grappling with a giant deficit and a desire to give  tax cuts to business and individuals in the run up to the next election will be at all sympathetic is a key question.

Other views found on Facebook below

Mishy Dunleavy (Writer and cinephile)
I have to categorically agree with Jan Muller regarding a move. 

The Anatomy building is better suited to art. They should move some of the NGA and/or possibly other collections there and put the NFSA on the Acton Peninsula exactly where he proposes. That will create a natural extension of the current new precinct.

Visitor numbers have been low for  years in that location. It was always like an idea that wanted to work but only ever half - realised. It is like a curse ! 

It’s a lovely Art Deco building with completely the wrong feeling for Australian film collection.

Peter Galvin (Scholar, critic, teacher, cinephile)
The NFSA as such is not quite an 'old' public service institution - its modern independent formation began in 1984. Before that it was within the National Library of Australia (NLA) and was formed in 1935 as the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library. 

It has had frankly a stormy history - a constant tension as regards budget/policy/purpose/leadership/audience. The issues are very complex and anything I say here will sound somewhat misleading...but essentially much of its problems surround its high cost - its profile remains unhappily not great and over time there has been much discussion that many of its core services might be better delivered by either other departments or - worse in my view - private enterprise. 17 years ago they tried changing the name in order to stimulate a profile - to little effect. 
The problem is value - our keepers in Canberra have pointed out that a national treasure of sound and image is essential but what contribution can it possibly have to the national experience - the way the National Gallery, the Australian Museum and the National Library do.
So...(1) no one knows it's there (2) No one understands its value (3) No one can access its treasures casually and (4) Its curatorial powers are so limited. 
Over the years they have produced many exhibitions - there's a good one now! - and many videos. But its purpose is felt deepest by historians/academics filmmakers/researchers...and this, for Canberra is too small a club to pay attention too!

The tension between the archive and the Federal Government in Canberra is I think a matter of record. One of the isues with any archive is the constant race against obsolescence of method in access/retrieval and storage since the basis of its practical value is supported by essential technologies designed to deliver core goals of its brief.

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