Canadian Audiovisual Archives: The Politics of Preservation and Access
Mitchell, Aimee Marie
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In 2005, in the spirit of Canadas total archives philosophy, the Western University Archives in London, Ontario acquired over ninety regional films on 8mm. Archival staff digitized the films in a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) fashion: they were simply repaired, projected, and captured off the wall with a digital camera. The raw files were then processed and given basic titling before being exported onto DVDs for public and institutional sale. While digitization was quite rudimentary, the public has access to a forgotten regional history. This dissertation analyzes the tensions and politics of audiovisual acquisition, preservation, and dissemination by recounting steps taken by DIY archivists to bring films from a personal archive to an institutional archive. I trace this collection of amateur itinerant films as they move from the filmmakers home in Dundee, New York, to the Western Archives. Reverend Leroy (Roy) Massecar (1918-2003) was a Baptist Minister and itinerant filmmaker who between 1947-1949 visited over ninety towns throughout Central and Southwestern Ontario, documenting daily life, screening films in these towns as Stars of the Town See Yourself and Your Friends on the Screen! and capturing the fleeting energy of small town rural Ontario. The dissertation mobilizes what Canadian archivist Terry Cook calls, archival contextual knowledge, a history from the bottom-up, and uses this case study to highlight larger issues facing Canadian audiovisual collections in the early 21st century: the shifting value in antiquated audiovisual formats and marginal film collections; the tension between professional preservation and public access; the hidden labour of audiovisual archivists; and the politics of DIY audiovisual discourse. I make the labour and bureaucracy of traditional archives visible by examining the discourses of the Archive not only within a theoretical space, but also in actual archive spaces whether physical or digital. I argue that bringing transparency to the roles and actions of donors, artists, archivists, scholars, and the public will allow for the larger ecology of Canadian audiovisual preservation to be activated, allowing actors in each point of the cycle to collectively move towards a holistic and networked audiovisual preservation strategy.