Student Spotlight: Spencer Churchill

The following is a guest post by Spencer Churchill for our Student Spotlight series. The series was created to highlight the fascinating and dedicated work being carried out by students in moving image archival studies. If you’re a student who would like to be highlighted or you know someone who should be, contact us at


An archivist’s perspective; from the collection at the American Genre Film Archive in Austin, Texas

My name is Spencer Churchill, I am originally from Binghamton, NY, but have resided in Rochester, NY while completing the two year Masters Thesis in English program, through the University of Rochester. I am also a recent graduate of the L Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. In addition to my studies, I was fortunate enough to hold office as President of the University of Rochester AMIA Student Chapter for my final year as a student. In my time spent as president, I organized several on campus film screenings from the university’s 16mm collection, a well-attended Home Movie Day celebration at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY, a behind-the scenes tour of the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY and a very successful exchange trip to Canada to visit the students and staff of the AMIA chapter at the University of Toronto. 

My interests in the audiovisual field stem from my involvement in the fine arts and my undergraduate education at SUNY New Paltz. Although I have always had a particular interest in cinema, in both theoretical and historical capacities, I can locate my interests in film as a material object to a final art installation in which I replicated the viewing booth experience of a Mutoscope. While researching the earliest examples of silent and experimental cinema for the project, I started reading about the “lost films” of the late 19th and early 20th century. For me, the single most exciting thing about audiovisual archiving is having the ability to provide access to previously unknown works of motion picture history. When I found the field of film preservation, and saw how the Selznick School was providing an educational platform to best equip future practitioners there was an overwhelming sense of urgency that called for my participation.

Spencer Churchill

Spencer Churchill inspecting a 35mm reel from his senior project on the Indian Cinema Collection

The project that I can attribute the most personal gratification to was when I worked on the Indian Cinema Collection donation to the George Eastman Museum in the Spring of 2015. The experience spent on my personal project, in which I worked in tandem with my colleague and close friend, Mr. John Morton to index the gargantuan ingestion of the Indian Cinema Collection to the George Eastman Museum, is unparalleled and has, not only, spawned a multitude of opportunities for me in the present and future, but also has connected me to so many wonderful and passionate individuals working within the field of motion picture preservation, diverse halls of academic disciplines and fervent patrons of world cinema. Both my partner and I worked diligently to establish a densely-populated metadata indexing system for a collection of 775 individual 35mm theatrical prints and 575 unique titles that were housed in approximately 1300 burlap-wrapped boxes.

Our success in cataloguing the complete collection of films lead to my invitation to speak at 2015 AMIA Conference in Portland, OR. I was joined on a panel, aptly titled: “Processing Film Collections Labeled in Non-Latin Alphabets”, by Ms. Liz Coffey from the Harvard Film Archive, Mr. Travis Wagner from the University of South Carolina and Ms. Amy Sloper from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This presentation went so well that I was then invited by the Journal of Digital Media Management to submit an article for publication based on my experience with the Indian Cinema Project.

While completing the optional second year Masters in English through the University of Rochester, I have been able to delve into film studies from both a historical lens, as well as an international perspective by studying Austrian, German, Russian, Italian and Early American Cinema. Since graduating from this program, I have shifted my focus to my final thesis paper in which I am interested in exploring the curatorial, archival, technological and cultural issues of exhibiting and preserving film elements that have faded to red.


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