Getting to Know You: The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation

This is the third post of our series titled Getting to Know You. The series was developed as a way to introduce and connect potential students with current audiovisual archiving programs from around the world. This series will culminate with a panel presentation by representatives from a sampling of programs at the upcoming AMIA conference in Portland, Oregon this November 2015.

Below is a guest post by Jeffrey L. Stoiber, Assistant Curator of the Moving Image Department at George Eastman Museum. He can be contacted at jstoiber@eastman.org for further questions about the program.


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1. When was your program established and how has it developed?

The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, established in 1996, is the longest-standing program of its kind worldwide, and the first in the United States. L. Jeffrey Selznick (1932-1997), the son of film producer David O. Selznick, chose George Eastman Museum as the place where he could fulfill his vision of a specialized venue for the education and training in the art and science of preserving cinema as an art form and, more broadly, as a cultural phenomenon. His goal was to emphasize the importance of a dialogue between archives, museums, and the academia, in an environment where scholarship and technology are at the service of creativity.

jeffrey_selznickMr. Selznick indicated from the outset that graduates from the Selznick School should acquire the knowledge necessary to successfully apply for jobs in collecting institutions, whether commercial or non-profit, in both curatorial and technical positions. To this end, he wanted the school to be highly selective in the recruitment process but also inclusive, in the sense that students should not be admitted exclusively on the basis of their previous academic credentials. The program, now expanded in a two-tier format, is made possible by the generous support of the Louis B. Mayer Foundation; the Selznick Graduate Program in Film and Media Preservation is held in partnership with the University of Rochester since 2004.

2. What type(s) of degree(s)/certifications does your program offer?

The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation offers both a Certificate Program and a Masters of Arts Program:

a) the one-year Certificate program runs from September to June of each year, and is held in the premises of George Eastman Museum and in selected archival and laboratory venues.

b) the MA strand, officially called The Selznick Graduate Program in Film and Media Preservation, is a two-year curriculum held in conjunction with the University of Rochester and offers a Masters of Arts in English.

In the first year, students of the certificate and MA programs work together and participate in the same classes, seminars and workshops. They are also equally involved in the field trips to collecting institutions and preservation laboratories organized in the course of the academic year.

3. Typical class size? Faculty size and backgrounds?

Admission to the school is limited to a maximum of 15 students per academic year. Class size varies from time to time, but it typically consists of 10 to 14 students, with an ideal mix of certificate and MA students in equal parts. From the outset, the Selznick School was conceived as an international program; over the years, it has recruited from 29 different countries of all continents, from Canada and Mexico to Zimbabwe, Serbia, France, The Netherlands, South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand.

Ken Fox, MA class of 2011, with Jeff Stoiber

Ken Fox, MA class of 2011, with Jeff Stoiber

The core faculty of the School is headed by its Director, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Adjunct Professor of Film at the University of Rochester as well as Senior Curator of the Moving Image Department at George Eastman Museum. It includes all staff of the Moving Image Department at the Museum; faculty from the English, Modern Languages and Cultures, and Visual and Cultural Studies Departments of the University of Rochester; and an international team of guest lecturers chosen from a large roster of scholars, curators and laboratory professionals. On average, students attend over one hundred lectures, screenings and practical demonstrations in the course of one academic year.

4. What are your expectations of students for admission and for completing the program?

The Selznick School is an intensive, full-immersion course. Mr. Selznick believed that a key requirement for finding a job in the field is engaging in all its activities, without exception, ranging from the technical and the curatorial to the financial, public outreach, and managerial areas. For those who aspire to develop an academic career, a well-rounded theory of archival practice cannot be formulated without a thorough exposure to the practice itself, with a full integration between real life and the realm of ideas. In this sense, the Selznick School is designed as a living laboratory for scholarship applied to the actual preservation of the moving image in all its forms.
Application requirements for the programs can be found on the school’s website pages:

Certificate program: http://eastman.org/selznickschool/certificate_apply.html
Masters of Arts program: http://eastman.org/selznickschool/masters_apply.html

Applicants are generally required to have a Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent experience and must submit a full Curriculum Vitae; a cover letter; and three letters or recommendation. All classes are taught in English; a TOEFL exam is required for non-native speakers. MA applications also require a 20-page writing sample.
Certificate Students are expected to attend classes on Curatorial Theory and Practice, Film Conservation and Restoration, workshops and “rotations” (working with different museum staff members on a weekly basis) for the first half of the academic year. The second half is devoted to further classwork on moving image archive management; laboratory work (analog and digital); grant writing; and a personal project in which each student achieves a more specialized knowledge in a particular area of study.
Masters of Arts students must undertake all the activities described above. In addition, they are required to attend a film history class in the fall and an elective course in the spring of the first academic year. The second year of study focuses on film history and theory and on the completion of a 50-page Masters’ Essay that reflects the experience acquired in the first year, combined with the academic work of the second year.

5. Are there any special events, programs, or professional groups your students are expected or encouraged to take part in for further professional development?

Dryden Theatre

Dryden Theatre

Certificate and MA students participate in field visits and training with the technical and curatorial staff of the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation at the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia; the film preservation laboratory at Cinema Arts in Angels, Pennsylvania; The Image Permanence Institute; and the Museum of Modern Art’s Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center. All these activities are an integral part of the Selznick School’s curriculum. Students are also strongly encouraged to attend the annual AMIA Conference and, when possible, supported in their travel to the conference’s venue with the staff of the Museum. The Selznick School’s AMIA student chapter, AMIAUR, hosts a number of events each year, including film screenings and an annual Home Movie Day event held in Rochester. The student chapter also contributes to the annual Nitrate Picture Show at the Museum’s Dryden Theatre.

6. What does your program specialize in (digital media, film handling, library studies, etc.)?

One of the main strengths of the Selznick School is the complete integration between students and faculty — the museum staff — who basically live together the everyday life of a moving image collecting institution. Students have full, unrestricted access to all the areas of the Moving Image Department at George Eastman Museum, from the nitrate vaults to the digital services, during working hours and sometimes beyond. They can work on the TMS collection catalog and use the museum’s library, and attend all the daily film screenings of the Dryden Theatre at no cost.

Chris Ruble, class of 2015, and Kyle Alvut, Manager, Digital Laboratory, Film Preservation Services

Chris Ruble, class of 2015, and Kyle J. Alvut, Manager, Digital Laboratory, Film Preservation Services

The other crucial asset of the Selznick School is the equal attention paid to the old and the new, from nitrate films (including their projection at The Nitrate Picture Show, annually held in the Dryden Theatre) to the electronic and post-analog media. The Museum has a full-fledged digital laboratory, Film Preservation Services (FPS), where staff and students work together in the creation of high-quality digital versions of George Eastman Museum’s film collection and the management of its growing number of digital-born works.

Hands-on experience is at the core of the program, both in the analog and the digital domain. In essence, this is a full-time program that takes place every day, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm. in a working museum. When students are not attending classes, they are working side by side with film and media professionals, learning all the activities and skills required in a collecting institution (film handling, vault management, digital restoration, film and video transfer, digital asset management, cataloging, conservation of photographs and posters, just to name a few).

7. What relationship do you maintain with alumni?

The community of Selznick School graduates around the world (over two hundred and counting) has become so large that Museum staff can hardly work on a project with a fellow institution of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) without encountering a former Selznick student who now occupies a curatorial or technical position. The same goes for laboratories, universities, and cultural organizations of all kinds. From this standpoint, our dialogue with the alumni is a continuation of the working relationship we have established with them when they were learning their crafts at the Selznick School.

Class of 2015 Students with Juan Vrijs and Gerard de Haan from Haghefilm Digitaal

Class of 2015 Students with Juan Vrijs and Gerard de Haan from Haghefilm Digitaal

The academic year 2015-2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the program. To celebrate the occasion, a special event has been organized for the Spring of 2016 in conjunction with the second edition of The Nitrate Picture Show at George Eastman Museum (April 29-May 1st ). The administration of the school is in contact with Selznick graduates on a regular basis, and there is an alumni Facebook page where graduates keep each other up to date on the latest job openings and events occurring in the field.

8. What is the best way to find out more about your program?

Attending an archival film festival (such as Pordenone, Bologna, San Francisco), a conference or a public event related to film and media preservation – not to mention the AMIA conferences! – is often the best way to find out more about the Selznick School from those who have attended it in the past. There is no better review of our program than the live recollections of those who have spent one or two years with the Selznick School and have experienced its “just do it” approach, well beyond the lectures and term papers.

The school’s administrator, Jeffrey L. Stoiber, Assistant Curator of the Moving Image department at George Eastman Museum, is happy to answer questions and can be reached jstoiber@eastman.org, (585) 271-3361 ext.333.

9. Would you like to share any media from the program or additional links?

See the Selznick School’s website, http://eastman.org/selznickschool/

You are encouraged to follow the activities of the Selznick students through the Museum’s blog, and those of the Selznick School AMIA Chapter through its Facebook page.

The activities of Selznick graduates are often documented in the publications of the International Federation of Film Archives, such as the Journal of Film Preservation and the FIAF Bulletin, available in electronic form at http://www.fiafnet.org/uk/news/FBOcurrent.html.

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