Innovation and Experimentation Pt.2: The Institute of Amateur Cinematographers Collection at the East Anglian Film Archive

by Paul Frith, Post-Doc Research Associate on The Eastmancolor Revolution Project

As I mentioned in a previous blog for the project website (‘Innovation and Experimentation’, 19 April 2017), as a professional film stock, Eastmancolor was rarely used in amateur filmmaking. That’s not to suggest that the amateurs were unable to produce colour images to rival the professionals simply because Eastmancolor stock wasn’t at their disposal. On the contrary, the amateur hobbyists and semi-professionals manipulated non-standard film stocks, cameras, lenses, and even produced their own home-made gadgets in order to get the most out of the colour processes available.

As part of the Eastmancolor Revolution project, we have been working with the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) to digitise a selection of such films, taken from the archive’s Institute of Amateur Cinematographers (IAC) collection (extracts from which were screened at the Second International Colour in Film Conference, 27-29 March 2017). Sourced from the archive’s 16mm master material, these films have been scanned at 2K and colour graded using DaVinci Resolve by Peter White, Head Technician at EAFA.

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Cactus Polonaise (Gordon Rowley, 1960)

The collection, which came to the archive in 2006, is primarily made up of films from the IAC’s original hiring library and contains nearly eleven hundred titles made by amateur enthusiasts from Britain and Ireland, Japan, Europe, Australia, and the United States. A variety of colour processes are represented within the collection, which include: a number of Ektachrome stocks; Kodacolor; Dufaycolor; Gevachrome; Fujichrome; and Kodachrome. These films were taken into the IAC collection following the Institute’s first annual amateur filmmaking competition in 1933 (which is still running today), examples from which, and for every subsequent competition, can be found in collection held at EAFA.

Another amateur competition, the Ten Best awards, began in 1936 and was organised by the publication Amateur Cine World (first published in 1934 and renamed Movie Maker in 1967) with a judging panel in that first year consisting of John Grierson, Andrew Buchanan, Oliver Bell of the BFI, Norman Jenkins of IAC, and the editor of ACW Gordon Malthouse. Unfortunately, only two of the winning films from that inaugural competition survive due to the fact that, unlike the IAC competition, the original films would often be returned to the filmmaker. However, from the late-1940s onward, the winning films were copied for distribution to leading cine clubs and later taken in by the IAC as part of their own hiring library. It was during the Festival of Britain, in 1951, that the Ten Best competition made its first appearance at the National Film Theatre and would go on to showcase early films from Ken Russell (whose amateur work brought him to the attention of the BBC in the late-1950s) and Peter Watkins (some of Watkins’ amateur films still survive in the IAC collection) with a series of guest hosts and judges including Joan Collins, Michael Winner, James Stewart and Dilys Powell.

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Reefs and Islands (Eduard Tschokl, 1980)

In selecting titles from the IAC collection for digitsation, there were a number of practical decisions to be made prior to any evaluation of their use of colour. One of these was to ensure that the films chosen had not previously been digitised at EAFA, making these titles both new additions to the digital archive and the first IAC films to be presented in hi-definition. Of the eleven hundred titles held within the IAC collection, we already knew that a high proportion would be in colour given that amateur filmmakers embraced colour photography long before the film industry itself. However, in light of the fact that, as of yet, there has been no in-depth assessment of the content of these films, researching each individual title would have presented quite a challenge. The answer to this was to be found in articles published annually by Amateur Cine World and Movie Maker, which listed award winning titles from their Ten Best competition and provided some insight into why the judging panel made their selections. From these articles it was then possible to shortlist a number of films from the collection which had previously been recognised for their achievements in the use of colour photography.

Once identified and located within the EAFA vaults, an initial inspection of the individual films was carried out in order to make a series of further recommendations as to which should be selected for digitisation. As the IAC collection is made up of films from their original hiring library, some of the titles show varying degrees of wear and tear following repeated projection. However, as there are a number of titles within the collection which are represented by more than one viewing copy (films which had clearly been more popular with the hirers) this afforded the opportunity to select those which would provide a higher quality image once scanned.

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Specimens (Roy Spence, 1983)

Another issue raised during inspection was that of colour fading. In most cases, films within the IAC collection are made up of direct prints taken from the original reversal masters and includes a variety of print stocks; some of which (including earlier Eastmancolor stocks) were more susceptible to fading than others. If no other element for faded titles existed within the collection, the decision was made not to attempt to correct the image digitally when no reference copies were readily available. Given that the aim of our digitisation project was to highlight the creative use of colour in amateur filmmaking, it would be futile (and somewhat unethical) to attempt to recreate our own interpretation of the original image in this instance. Further research would be needed if any ‘true’ representation of the original were to be attempted.

Of the remaining twelve titles, the final seven were selected after viewing and chosen in order to demonstrate a variety of techniques, genres, colour processes, and methods of production (i.e. lone workers, cine societies). The first two of these titles, Cactus Polonaise (Gordon Rowley, 1960) and Reefs and Islands (Eduard Tschokl, 1980) can be found at the bottom of this page where you will also find further information on the films and their makers. The remaining titles will be added to the website over the coming weeks and can also be found under the ‘Media’ tab on the Homepage.

For more information on the IAC contact them at admin@theiac.org.uk or for details on the IAC collection contact EAFA at eafa@uea.ac.uk.

 

Cactus Polonaise (Gordon Rowley, 1960)

Gordon Rowley became an amateur filmmaker in 1959 after cashing in some of his personal investments in order to purchase a Bolex 16mm camera, sound projector and a variety of film-making apparatus which would assist in his ambitious projects. Following a series of experimental personal films, Rowley’s efforts were rewarded with two Amateur Cine World Ten Best awards in 1961 for Pipeline to Paradise and Cactus Polonaise; the first amateur filmmaker to achieve such a feat. A lecturer in horticulture, his film-making interests were largely centred on this subject and also demonstrate his pursuits as a gadgeteer (as a number of amateur filmmakers were at the time) using a number of stop motion effects and coloured lighting gels to bring his subjects to life. The film was shot using Kodachrome, a standard for many amateurs for 25 years (1936-61) until it was superseded by Type II which offered the improved definition and more agreeable contrast that Ektachrome users had benefited from for years. Before the introduction of Kodachrome II, there had been a number of calls in Amateur Cine World from readers who wanted better quality images like those shot on Ektachrome, a professional stock which wasn’t readily available to amateur filmmakers as most ‘point and shoot’ photographers were satisfied with the results offered by Kodachrome. In 1965, the introduction of a Kodachrome duplicating stock (7387) was deemed to be of considerable importance, particularly for those just starting out on Kodachrome, as this resolved earlier issues relating to the printing of satisfactory duplicates; something which had also been one of the benefits of using Ektachrome.

Reefs and Islands (Eduard Tschokl, 1980)

Filmmaker for 20 years and winner of previous Ten Best awards, Tschokl worked as a medical specialist in Austria and also served as the President of the Austrian Cine Club. Winner of the 1980 Ten Best Colour Award, Reefs and Islands features impressive underwater photography of the Great Barrier Reef, Northern Australia, and the indigenous population living within the dense jungles of Trobriand, New Guinea. The film utilises a variety of techniques in the reproduction of multi-coloured scenes surrounding the seabed and reef, as aquatic floras and faunas pass by the director’s camera, which is aided by natural light cutting through the crystal-clear seas. For the scenes of ritual celebration amongst the locals of Trobriand, Tschokl intercuts the positive image with negative creating a stark contrast to the colour and vibrancy of the ceremony.

 

 

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