Cinema Studies
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Students from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) Program visit Archives II, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) College Park, Maryland

Monday, February 7, 2005
Photographs by Howard Besser

On February 7, 2005, students from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program visited Archives II of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland. Calvin Jefferson gave students a tour of holdings from the Motion Picture Films and Sound and Video Recordings unit. The Archives is in charge of accessioning, preserving and making accessible government-produced documents including paper, film, video and audio material.

Notable moving image collections include March of Times newsreels and outtakes, Universal newsreels, television news, Ford Film Collection and various moving image documentation from government agencies. NARA does not archive feature films, under the collection guidelines of the Library of Congress. Once agencies submit articles, they are permanently a part of NARA's collection and cannot be taken back.

Film is kept on cores in plastic bags inside fire-retardant polypropylene cans. The vault is temperature and humidity-controlled. Mr. Jefferson said that NARA's largest film holdings come from the Department of Defense and the second largest film holdings come from the US Information Agency for International Development.

NARA divides their motion picture film collection between original material, intermediates, and access copies. NARA uses a color-coded process to distinguish materials in their film holdings as follows: red label = preservation; yellow label = intermediate; green label = reference copy. The Archives accommodates its huge holdings by using compact shelving. This is a row full of intermediates, which are used to make reference copies while the original material remains untouched. Many of the intermediates are now made to Digital Betacam because researchers request video end product and it is extremely costly to fund film-to-film transfers. Jefferson stated that NARA does not have a systematic preservation policy. Material is preserved based on user requests.

The Archives has an extensive collection of video on every format imaginable: 2", 1", 3/4", Betacam and Digital Betacam. Videos in storage are periodically rotated on the shelves in an effort to slow down deterioration.

More 1" and 3/4" video from WNET. The WNET tapes are from the US Information Agency record group, and WNET is the series level. NARA staff is fixing the curling labels by relabeling the tape boxes with a permanent marker.

Collection of gold-plated transcription discs. This is a recording of Benito Mussolini from 1940.

Country Music Time: LP's of radio programming for troops during Vietnam. NARA also has an extensive record collection of jazz recordings.

A series of 1/4" reel-to-reel audiotape recordings of the Nuremburg Trial, enclosed in acid-free boxes.

Deteriorated 1/4" reel-to-reel audiotape, warped, curled, brittle, stepped pack, in need of care.

Glass photograph negatives are held in cold storage.

A retired 3/4" U-Matic machine tells it like it is.

Shelves and shelves of obsolete tape machines and monitors that are saved for parts.

The Motion Picture, Sound and Video Research Room is open to users Monday through Saturday. Archives II prides itself on a 24-hour turnover rate for most access requests. According to archival procedure, NARA's audiovisual records are not stored with paper records. Therefore, researchers may not locate paper materials that have a connection to moving image materials because they are unaware of the association, but can check the catalog of the individual unit. Approximately 50% of NARA's catalog is currently available online.

Reference copies of certain video and audio materials are available for self-service. 50% of the moving image holdings have reference copies. Items not immediately available are pulled from the stack storage areas five times daily, Monday through Friday. Researchers can consult the online catalog of finding aids as well as files available on-site. Mr. Jefferson explained that NARA only honors donor restrictions and does not track copyright holders. Researchers are responsible for obtaining copyright clearances, if necessary.

Kiosks are available to play VHS and U-Matic tapes. If they wish, researchers also can bring their own equipment (such as a mini-DV camera) to record their own reference copies to take home. Researchers include historians, documentary makers and grade school children.

Contact printer for aerial photos with switches for dodging and burning.

Steven Puglia gives the MIAP class a tour of the Special Media Preservation Laboratory for the preservation and digitization of print materials. Mr. Puglia presents the giant contact printer for posters and oversize still photographs.

Contact printer for motion picture film with manual timing. NARA only does black-and-white film processing on-site and outsources jobs for color film processing.

Students toured the film and audio transfer rooms with Charles Mayn.

More dead technology, including audio wire machines, video heads and a typewriter.

A broken glass record. As Mr. Mayn explained, this format is easier to repair than plastic since it's a cleaner break and does not bend.

Wax cylinder player with a turn-of-the-century recording of the Knights of Columbus Orchestra.

Audio wire.