Preservation of film footage by DOI

I refer to Anthony Parnis's letter (July 25) and would like to highlight a number of misconceptions which have been made.

i) One and all can rest assured that the DOI film Malta Welcomes Her Queen, shown on PBS, is a copy of the original with the latter being preserved at the DOI's film vault. It must have slipped Mr Parnis' memory, as a former DOI Director, that in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s (but not in the 1990s) DOI and Xandir Malta used to liaise regularly in audio-visual productions. The master used to be held by DOI with Xandir Malta being given the copy.

ii) Up to 1990 the master films, shot and produced by DOI, were stored in the UK at The Overseas Film and Television Centre Ltd. Mr Parnis should recall that back then, it was decided to bring back the film collection to Malta, and DOI was against that the film collection be given to Xandir Malta, because there were "serious doubts" as to how well they could archive properly the valuable material. DOI was definitely in favour that they had to be stored "somewhere" at the department's precincts.

iii) When the film collection was eventually brought back to Malta, it was housed at one of the DOI's humid basement rooms which lacked the basic criteria for being a film storage room.

iv) One of the biggest enemies in preserving old films is vinegarisation (and not only flaking and colour depletion). One of the catalysts of vinegarisation, is storing film reels in metal cans and leaving them in humid conditions.

This process was reversed during the past two years when the department, in complete liaison and in consultation with the National Archivist of Malta, undertook a series of initiatives which included:

a) The setting up of an appropriate filmvault having a temperature and humidity gradient control unit for film storage; a state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression unit;

b) the transfer of all film reels from metal cans to suitable plastic film cans;

c) the setting up of a tailor made database (believe it or not no proper catalogue system was ever in place). The new catalogue system is even being highlighted in a study module for students reading for the Diploma in Archives and Records Management at the University of Malta, with visits being made by university students to see what all this entails;

d) and the acquisition of film transfer digitisation equipment from the US. This department can flaunt that this equipment, bought two years ago, had never been purchased by any EU country so much so that the local customs had to contact their EU counterparts to appropriately code this equipment.

Your readers can rest assured that during the past two years, the department has striven to suppress and correct the huge incalculable damage which has afflicted the film collection over the years because of neglect. We were fortunate enough to have found priceless advice from a Maltese national working in the film archiving and preservation industry in Germany, who has furnished DOI with updated information, when required.

It is also interesting to note that DOI is currently working on a pilot project to make footage material available to the public on DVD format. We are aware that tens of thousands of euro are needed for the setting up of a proper film storage, preservation and digitisation setup. To date we have started the process in a cost effective way, and with the very limited resources available, we have produced the first edition in DVD format on Dun Ġorġ - L-Aħħar Tislima which was distributed both locally and abroad. It is encouraging to note also the enthusiastic appreciation showed by Chris Said, Parliamentary Secretary for Public Dialogue and Information for our achievements during his recent visit to DOI and he is four square behind us for this project to continue.

It is unacceptable that people who had high office and are supposedly familiar with the subject ignore the National Archives Act (2005) as if it does not exist! Mr Parnis' proposals to the Parliamentary Secretary go against the Act's provisions.

We are proud of what we have achieved so far. We are even more proud of our contribution, together with the National Archives, in the task to ensure that the audio-visual heritage at hand will be made available in the format that could easily be viewed by the public at large.


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