Film Archiving & What We Need To Do To Preserve Our Film Heritage!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on December 08, 2015

This year at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, we were lucky to attend one of the most interesting panels we've seen in a long time. This panel was on film archives & archiving, where the speakers spoke at length on the past, present and the future of preservation. The panel included the likes of P.K. Nair, Kiran Rao, Anand Gandhi, along with film scholars like Ranjini Majumdar and Gayatri Chatterjee & journalists like Siddharth Bhatia & those involved in film archiving like Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran.

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Film scholar Gayatri Chatterjee

Indiancine.ma & The Future Of Film Archiving

Indiancine.ma is an annotated online archive of Indian film. It is intended to serve as a shared resource for film scholars and enthusiasts in India and beyond. Initiated by Pad.ma (Public Access Digital Media Archive), it is operated in collaboration with a number of organisations and film studies institutions. One can browse, annotate, search and watch videos — be it their own archive, or someone else's. Indiancine.ma was built with pan.do/ra, and launched in February 2013 at Jaaga in Bangalore, with support from the Bohen Foundation, The Foundation for Arts Initiatives, and the Goethe Institute.

This is a website that runs in your browser, so you can either put your collection online, or just use it in your local network. At present, Indiancine.ma is being utilized as a backbone structure for several research projects on Indian film. Manoj Rahul, a researcher and film enthusiast took the audience through the Ship of Theseus annotations and his study of the initial sequence of the film. He also went into the detailed functions and took the audience through the working of Pad.ma and Indiancine.ma.

Public Access Digital Media Archive - is an online archive of densely text-annotated video material, primarily footage, not finished films. The entire collection is free to download for non-commercial use. Unlike YouTube, it's focus is on deep annotation and metadata, i.e. both written and automated analysis of video material, often footage and not finished films. The software platform, run by a collective including CAMP in Mumbai, 0x2620 in Berlin and the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore, is built with the idea that digitised film can be indexed and enhanced with rich metadata, which can range from historical context, to interviews with cast and crew, to critical essays by film scholars.

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Filmmaker Kiran Rao talking on the panel

Paanch, Parinda Annotated By Ranjini Majumdar Using 'Indiancine.ma'

Ranjini Majumdar, a film scholar and professor of cinema studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University took the floor next to dissect of Anurag Kashyap's Paanch and Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Parinda. In Paanch, she learnt that Kashyap's opening titles are heavily inspired from David Fincher's Se7en, giving his film a grungy and gothic look. The opening sequence of the film sets the tone for the rest of the film with architecture and space playing a big role in sketching the characteristics of the protagonists.

In one of the key scenes where a character is contemplating suicide in the bathroom, the frame cements the maverick directors fascination for closed, claustrophobic places where the action is on the brim of explosion. Similarly, in Chopra's critically acclaimed Parinda, Majumdar finds a correlation between memories and childhood. The film, which takes place on the backdrop of the Mumbai and the underworld, highlights loss, disparity and destruction, with the underlined use of loss of innocence and optimism.

CAMP Founders on Digitizing Afghan Film Archives

Over the years, CAMP (Critical Art & Media Practice) founders Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran have engaged with media in both the artistic, material sense and through the conceptual mediation of the world at large. Video, CCTV, artist, layman, inside, outside, real, altered real, land, sea, electricity, and the internet—these themes, subjects, and media creep repeatedly into their practice, as they try to extract the reality hidden in the virtual. Shaina and Ashok went on to speak about how the archive of negatives of Afghan Films is intact, protected and persevered by a long-term staff who also produced and screened these films, through vagaries of political upheaval.

They shared with us how Vijay Chavan, a Bombay film technician who could work with telecine machines arrived in Kabul. He repaired the existing FDL90 telecine machine and the Steinbeck, and trained four staff members in using and troubleshooting them. Shortly afterward, a local database was set up using an offline instance of Pad.ma.

The 90 or so films digitised during the workshop range from the 1920's to the 1990's, and cut across many genres including newsreel, documentary and fiction features. Shaina also showed certain footage from their archives and told us how Afghan students would come to India to study at FTII and an Indian cinematographer was even working at the Afghan Films Division and shooting films there.

Both Pad.ma, a digital media archive, and more recently Indiancine.ma, are collective efforts of Anand, Sukumaran, and CAMP studio collaborators.

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From L to R: Siddarth Bhatia, Anand Gandhi, Shaina Anand, Ranjini Majumdar, Gayatri Chatterjee, Ashok Sukumaran

P.K. Nair On The Importance Of Film Preservation

Finally, noted film archivist and film scholar P.K. Nair honored the stage with his presence & spoke about how difficult and tasking film archiving back in the days. Mr. Nair was the founder and director of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in 1964. A passionate film archivist, he worked at NFAI for over three decades, collecting films from India and from all over the world and was the subject of the documentary, Celluloid Man.

Sidharth Bhatia, a journalist and writer based in Mumbai who founded The Wire, was also part of the panel & spoke at length about the culture of club songs in Bollywood. He started off with the climax scene from Guru Dutt's Baazi, a noir film starring Dev Anand. He also showcased snippet of songs like 'Jaan Pehchaan Ho' from Gumnaam and 'Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu' from Waqt (Yash Chopra). He highlighted how these films used prop bands like 'Ted Lyons and His Clubs' and 'The Monkees' for the purpose of adding authenticity to the clubs. It was interesting to know that many Anglo-Indians back then found this movement as a lucrative business to bring in foreigners (and also dance and perform) into the films as extras in the clubs. You can read a more lucid article on the club songs by Mr. Bhatia here.


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