Why Preservation Matters: "We Need to Remember, Period."

Tue, 2012-10-23 12:21 -- carol

Winchester, MA  Digitization of fragile film and video resources is the first step towards making sure they are preserved into the future. Yale University's department of Manuscripts and Archives published an example of a video from The Fortunoff Video Archive Holocaust Testimonies, a historic collection of over 4,400 videotaped interviews with witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust, to demonstrate how important it is not only to digitize video resources, but to do it as soon as possible.

"Preservation Matters" on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MzzwnYJC4k

In a January 2012 interview with Variety (1) Martin Scorsese said, "We need to remember that the loss of over 75% of silent cinema to deterioration isn't just a matter of rhetoric or propaganda - that's for real. We need to remember that films are being lost all the time, and that we only find out that they're lost after the fact: They don't explode, they just quietly deteriorate. We need to remember, as I said before, that the work is constant and not at all glamorous. For every success story like the discovery and restoration of the John Ford silent picture "Upstream," there are thousands of other pictures that need to be located, or properly restored, or preserved, or all of the above. In short, we need to remember, period. And we need to act, without waiting for someone else to do it.

Ensuring that digital objects are preserved after they are digitized is another part of the preservation equation. Because digital film and video objects are big they require large storage facilities on servers or in the cloud. Additionally different types media formats often require access to multiple viewing applications. While digital film and video facsimiles are more stable than film or videotape, they are still fragile. Bit rot and lack of preservation metadata can cause deterioration and loss of access and meaning over time.

Mike Pogorzelski, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Head of Preservation discussed the balance between preserving film and video by digitizing and active digital maintanance strategies in a 2010 interview (2):  "The first digital intermediaries (for film) were primarily used in Europe in the 90s. Those files, made in the mid 90s, are completely unreadable, because the vendors went out of business, or they were using some sort of proprietary file format.  A custom directory system that informs the operating systems how the files or data are arranged, can’t be used without doing a lot of archeology in a sense to try to figure out what those files mean.  In the meantime, the 35mm recorded negative is now the defacto original because the digital data is, in effect, unusable."

ENABLING ACTIVE, LONG-TERM DIGITAL STORAGE

Preservation technologies such as DuraCloud actively maintain the bit integrity of film and video files (or any type of digital content) stored in the cloud. DuraCloud's health checking services verify all content stored in DuraCloud, and generate comparative reports. The service verifies the integrity of an entire space by collecting the content checksum values for each item from the underlying storage provider, streaming through each item while recalculating their checksums, and comparing the two listings. The service then generates a report for the space that compares both the stored checksum values from the storage provider as well as the computed checksum values. This report is available through the DuraCloud web interface or as a download providing ongoing graphical reports of the health of content.

ABOUT THE YALE FORTUNOFF VIDEO ARCHIVE

The archive is currently being digitized to preserve the testimonies. This short film by Alexander Dominitz contributes to our understanding why preserving these tapes is so critically important. More information about the archive may be found at: http://www.library.yale.edu/testimonies/

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1. Grosz, C. Scorsese talks preservation: Director still passionate about protecting film history. Variety, Jan. 1, 2012. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118048017/

2. Galas, M. Part One: Film Preservation In The Advent of Digital Media. 411 News, Issue #78. http://www.resource411.com/411Update/Issue/Articles/Story.cfm?StoryID=1071

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