AMIA 2014 – 700 miles is a long way to go for 3 millimetres

The following is a guest post by David Neary, NYU MIAP student and MIAP Student Chapter Vice President. 

The heat had only finally left New York when we suddenly found ourselves in Savannah, all glaring sun and thick heavy air. Inside the brightly lit atrium of the Hyatt Regency you could easily cool down, but resting was not an option. The buzz of the AMIA Conference certainly electrifies, although as only a second-timer it’s hard not to envy the more seasoned members overjoyed to see old friends and colleagues unseen perhaps since Richmond, perhaps since before. For the first year MIAP students, it could only have been daunting, impossibly so. AMIA, held a month earlier this year, meant many of them had only been in this field of ours five weeks or so. You had to feel for them, barely off the boat and already playing in the big leagues. Eyes down, don’t let Rick Prelinger know you’re staring.

(l-r) Michael Grant, David Neary, Ethan Gates, Allie Whalen and Carmel Curtis

(l-r) Michael Grant, David Neary, Ethan Gates, Allie Whalen and Carmel Curtis

Scheduling conflicts abound. There’s always some session on at all times that you want to be in, but if there isn’t one, there are three! Day 1. It’s open season on Open Source, with Project Hydra and MoMA’s new DRMC getting all the attention. But the real treats were the 2-inch treasures, as the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and UCLA showed off the finest in ’60s TV recovered from quad. “You missed Frank Sinatra photobombing Dinah Shore? Oh well…” is repeated often afterward to those who weren’t present. Mostly by me.

Then there’s archival screening night. The beautifully designed Lucas Theater plays host to Bill Cosby, who after masterfully delivering a TV spot attempts to improve again and again on himself while flubbing more and more words. The Netherlands has never looked more glorious. The British Military attempts to neutralise a car bomb using a foam party, and several hundred people begin to choke on their own laughter.


Ethan Gates and the 3mm camera

Day 2. Things get more exciting. Networking becomes the name of the game, with business cards being spread around faster than the cold that everyone seemed to be catching. The vendors plied us all with ice-cream and information. The sessions were all about film. Panic was kept at bay at ‘Film, Feet and the Photochemical – The Next Three Years’, although nerves were certainly on edge for the film preservationists present. Skip Elsheimer showed footage of a low-budget film scanner made of LEGO – film in transition indeed. But the place to be was the Obsolete Film Formats presentation, where Dino Everett showed us Eric Berndt’s impossibly small 3mm camera (3.2mm to those who were present). Everyone got to take a selfie with the tiny contraption and there was even a small strip of newly made 3mm film for everyone in the audience to take home.


(l-r) Lorena Ramírez-López and Carmel Curtis

Back in the Vendor Café, AMIA NYU student chapter president Lorena Ramírez-López and Carmel Curtis demonstrated the chapter’s good work in the poster session.The addition of a tablet presenting a slideshow, inserted into a slit in the cardboard backing, brought the poster session into the 21st Century. Who wants to see the 5K scanner when you can see a moving image poster session, am I right?!

Energy was low on Day 3 and everyone knew it was AVPreserve’s fault for throwing too good a party the night before. The Hack Day hacks returned strong results. Film as an educational tool (and education about film use) were early hot topics. South America’s national archives got their chance to show how promoting film culture is really done. But the session du jour was our own Jasmyn Castro’s presentation on archiving African American home movies. Her central topic of study, Jasmyn was able to talk about the unsung African American love affair with home movie camera, and showed us two startling films from the ’60s and ’70s that she had purchased off of eBay, no less. The Q&A was much loaded with helpful suggestions and questions for Jasmyn and probably gave her enough info to make up a third of her final thesis. It was joyful to see it all unfold.


Jasmyn Castro’s presentation, “Unearthing African-American Communities through Home Movies”


Jasmyn Castro screening African American home movies

The wine at the closing reception was far less entertaining than the photo booth Iron Mountain brought for us to play in; everyone took away a strip of four-framed silliness to bring home (and archive safely with their 3mm film). Another AMIA conference drew to a close; friends made and working relationships forged, information gathered and dispensed.

For the MIAPers departing, it was hard not to think back to the opening reception and the MIAP group photo taken out by the Savannah River. Staff, instructors, graduates, and current students came together in a grouping larger than most wedding parties. It made it very clear we’re all a part of something, and that that something is a big part of AMIA. My next conference will be as a graduate, bringing my own projects to the table. I have a feeling that will be even more exciting than these last two years have been.

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