There are 13 regional film archives in the UK that form the membership of Film Archives UK (FAUK), together they provide national coverage for local film material and the vast numbers of extant films housed in these repositories evidences the energy, commitment and determination of the archivists and curators who assembled them (Gray, 2013). Wessex Film and Sound Archive (WFSA) was founded in 1988 as part of Hampshire Record Office, in Winchester, under the governance of Hampshire Archives Trust. The collection now holds over 38,000 film and sound items, 12,000 of these are cinefilm and the collection is largely undigitised, a situation set to change in the next few years thanks to the acquisition of a cinefilm scanner. The cinefilm collection is largely the work of amateur filmmakers and holds material from as early as 1897.
Whose memories do regional amateur film collections hold? And how do we know?
There is a widely held belief – more often than not corroborated by extant films – that amateur filmmakers were white, male and middle class (Chalfen, 1987; Zimmermann, 1995; Norris Nicholson, 1997; Tepperman, 2014). Thanks to increasing archival research, we are beginning to expand upon this view. In 2020 the Invisible Innovators report, commissioned by Film Archives UK (FAUK) shed unprecedented light on the scale of women amateur filmmakers’ work in participating regional archives. The survey and resulting report highlighted some of the key challenges in locating women filmmakers – many of which are beginning to surface in current research into the WFSA collection. Many of the observations noted in the report continue to impact who is seen in the archive.
What factors influence who is seen?
The challenges that Invisible Innovators highlighted, manifest in different ways according to the archive in question, and each will no doubt exhibit a uniquely textured collection. A current research project on the collection focuses on the 1920-1950 period and entails a survey of all collections defined as amateur within this period – this has brought into focus some of the factors that influence who is seen in the archive.
Who a film was deposited by may seem to be peripheral evidence – but in the case of WFSA, it ultimately shapes how the film is accessioned and attributed. For example, the collection ‘AV100 Worley of Portsmouth’. While Worley retains the attribution as the male filmmaker who stored and then deposited the society’s film reels, the collection comprises a mix of film material, some of which is the work of Portsmouth Film Society. Although this method of attribution accurately reflects the provenance of the reels, it fails to acknowledge those who actually contributed to the making of the film(s). The Portsmouth Film Society, we know anecdotally, to have been composed of a more or less an even split between men and women – yet the names of women participants do not surface at collection level in the catalogue and only become apparent on viewing films, which helpfully include credits. Without such credits Molly Bishop, and other womens’ contributions would go completely unacknowledged.
AV100/11 Worley Films - Portsmouth Civic Events contains footage used by Portsmouth Film Society in their film AV100/1 The Southsea Review.
How much detail was taken from depositors about the films and filmmakers?
It becomes clear when examining catalogue entries that while some collection records hold expansive detail about the filmmaker, others are lacking. This reflects very thorough pragmatic archival practice on the one hand – contrasted with a less consistent collection and recording of the ‘softer’ – ‘nice-to-have’ details. There are, of course, many examples of orphaned films – reels that arrive at the archive with no connections to named individuals – but research has shown, that even where a filmmaker is provided a direct attribution, the method of recording this can, inadvertently, mask gender identity. ‘AV1413 Stay amateur films’ exemplifies this, whereby the collection level entry records the filmmaker’s name only as ‘F S Stay’, providing little in the way of clues about the filmmaker. In a similar yet more complex example, ‘AV176 Amateur films mostly of local scenes and events in Southampton, taken by W Craven-Ellis’ is the title for a collection of films made by two related people. The collection description goes on to explain that some films in the collection were made by ‘W Craven-Ellis’ and some ‘by his daughter Mrs Doris Campbell’. The attribution of items in the collection is included in the title of each item, for example: ‘AV176/7 MRS CAMPBELL'S FILMS, REEL 7* Reel 7 of a collection of amateur films taken by the late Mr W Craven-Ellis & his daughter Mrs D Campbell in the 1930s showing Conservative candidates at an open air meeting & touring constituency during Oct 1931 election campaign.’ On viewing this film, and others in the collection, it soon becomes clear that a considerable portion of these films are likely to have been the work of Doris alone, but this is not clear at collection level. AV176/7 features Mr Craven Ellis on screen and therefore suggests that Doris was the filmmaker in this instance.
How and where (or even if) additional contextual detail is recorded has a follow-on impact on the visibility of women filmmakers. The main point of access for many researchers is likely to be the digital catalogue – but this isn’t necessarily the only place that contextual information about the film or filmmaker may be stored, through chance or necessity snippets of information may not find their way into an accessible written form. At the point of accession archives will typically prioritise creation of a record in the catalogue, which may only contain indicative information to begin with which is often built upon at a later date by cataloguers, frequently volunteers. As an example, ‘AV5 Bealing Films’ historically bore only information about Frank Bealing. In 2010-11 interviews with Frank’s widow, Nancy, shed further light on the couple’s filmmaking practice and talked about her own filmmaking. Up to this stage, Nancy’s involvement in filmmaking had been anecdotally shared, but was not included in the catalogue and her name was not linked definitively to any films.
AV180/B3 Bealing Films: South West coast and Isle of Wight
We’re just not using the right words
The issue of word choices has been highlighted by the Invisible Innovators report (Clayton et al, 2020) as one of the key obstacles to locating women filmmakers in the archive, and is born out in current research to date with WFSA. One such example ‘AV90/6 PLASTER OF PARIS... Medical film, probably made by the wife of Sir HENRY GAUVAIN in about 1913, showing him applying full body plaster of paris to a child patient at Lord Mayor Treloar Hospital, Alton’, bears a detailed title and demonstrates how gender might be obscured if we do not know the search terms to use. At no point in the collection or item level entry is Henry Gauvain’s wife, referred to in the title of this film, given a name. In fact, Louisa Laura (known as ‘Lulie’) Gauvain, née Butler, (1880-1945) was a keen photographer and an involved member of the wider hospital team at Alton.
Items labelled according to title on the film can
WFSA began naming its accessions according to the title given on the original film can in which it arrived at the archive, which is a practice derived from the standard procedure outlined in FIAF’s guidance on titling. The FIAF guidance calls for works to be named according to the ‘title on original release’ (Harrison, 1991, p. 13), and for domestic works (home movies) a retention of the ‘original intended organisation’ is of ‘utmost importance to the integrity of home movie collections’ (Harrison, 1991, p. 33). This established cataloguing technique - the faithful retention of the filmmaker’s own title - is consistent and pays due courtesy to the producer’s original intent, but it is also problematic in several ways. There are instances where familial or local knowledge are needed to interpret a title, or where the title is so vague that it does little to distinguish one film from another (for example: AV1549/28 Ridgway Family Films - 'Misc 1'’). In these cases the retention of the filmmaker’s own naming system can be an obstacle that prevents films from being located and accessed, particularly if the ‘title’ field is used as the lead search field. It is believed, in the example given above, that Mrs Ridgeway had a hand in production of these films – but this is not apparent on this record.
The Wessex Sound and Film Archive is not unique in the challenges it faces in improving visibility of underrepresented groups, nor is gender the only factor upon which invisibility is inferred. Only through ongoing careful sifting through collections, reviewing films and catalogue entries can we begin to address the challenges, that systemic archival practices pose to access. As more of this work is conducted, only then it will it become clearer whose memories we hold.
WFSA Films/collections cited
AV100 Worley of Portsmouth
AV100/11 Worley Films - Portsmouth Civic Events
AV1413 Stay amateur films
AV176 Amateur films mostly of local scenes and events in Southampton, taken by W Craven-Ellis
AV176/7 MRS CAMPBELL'S FILMS, REEL 7* Reel 7 of a collection of amateur films taken by the late Mr W Craven-Ellis & his daughter Mrs D Campbell in the 1930s showing Conservative candidates at an open air meeting & touring constituency during Oct 1931 election campaign
AV5 Bealing Films
AV180/B3 Bealing Films: South West coast and Isle of Wight
AV90/6 PLASTER OF PARIS... Medical film, probably made by the wife of Sir HENRY GAUVAIN in about 1913, showing him applying full body plaster of paris to a child patient at Lord Mayor Treloar Hospital, Alton
AV1549/28 Ridgway Family Films - 'Misc 1'’
Chalfen, R. (1987) Snapshot Versions of Life. Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
Clayton, S. and Johnston, K., Williams, M. (2020) Invisible Innovators. Available at: http://www.eafa.org.uk/documents/invisible-innovators-final.pdf.
Craven, I. (2009) Movies on Home Ground: Explorations in Amateur Cinema. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Gray, L. M. F. (2013) A Short History of the UK’s Film Archives. Available at: http://www.filmarchives.org.uk/about/history/ (Accessed: 12 January 2021).
Harrison, H. W. (1991) ‘The FIAF Cataloguing Rules For Film Archives’, 1. Available at: https://www.fiafnet.org/images/tinyUpload/E-Resources/Commission-And-PIP-Resources/CDC-resources/FIAF_Cat_Rules.pdf.
Hill, S. and Johnston, K. (2020) ‘Making Amateur Filmmakers Visible: Reclaiming Women’s Work through the Film Archive’, Women’s History Review. doi: Hill, S. and Johnston, K. (2020) ‘Making Amateur Filmmakers Visible: Reclaiming Women’s Work through the Film Archive’, WoDOI: 10.1080/09612025.2019.170354.
Horak, J. (2020) ‘Constructing history: Archives, film programming, and preservation’, Journal of Film Preservation, 102, pp. 27–36. Available at: https://www.proquest.com/docview/2405318876?accountid=13963.
Motrescu-Mayes, A., & Nicholson, H. (2018) British Women Amateur Filmmakers: National Memories and Global Indentities. Edited by E. U. Press. Edinburgh.
Musser, C. (2004) ‘Historiographic Method and the Study of Early Cinema’, Cinema Journal, 44(1), pp. 101–107. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3661175.
Norris Nicholson, H. (1997) ‘In amateur hands: framing time and space in home-movies’, History Workshop Journal, 43(1), pp. 198–213. doi: Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/1997.43.199 [Accessed: 25/11/2020].
Tepperman, C. (2014) Cinema: The Rise of North American Moviemaking, 1923-1960. University of California Press.
Zimmermann P (1995) Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.