by Chris Emmanouilides
The programming strand called ARCHIVE FEVER that the curators at International House have been putting together for six years running exemplifies an increasingly rare yet tremendously valuable cultural institution we still have in our midst in Philadelphia.
I-House has been screening and celebrating eclectic, local, national, global, obscure, essential, unique, historic, innovative, outrageous, non-blockbuster, independent media of all forms since the 1970’s (maybe even longer!). We must be grateful that there’s still a place where we can collectively gather in the dark and focus our attention on the large screen - while our private, atomizing screens are momentarily silenced - to see such a diversity of work. The screening space at International House is not only a place to see the new, but a place to reflect on what’s been made before and find revitalized meaning and relevance from the cinematic archive of our lives. ARCHIVE FEVER is all that and more.
You can look at a traditional archive as a static collection of writings, recordings, objects, sometimes ordered and sometimes scattered scraps of personal and social information, or as one archivist once described as “the secretions of an organism.” There is no inherent or singular narrative embedded in these “secretions” unless someone digs into the material and crafts some kind of story. No doubt this has been the puzzle and joy of historians, archeologists and many others for centuries. And from at least the 1920’s, the human secretions of light and sound on sensitive recording materials have been a treasure for filmmakers to explore, exploit and reinterpret in personal and profound ways.
But since the inception, inevitability and explosion of the digital universe – a relatively recent and entirely new historical phenomenon – we now live amidst an archive so vast and exponentially expanding every second that it’s difficult to fathom how to preserve, access, organize and sift through the digital secretions of organisms to construct meaningful and enduring stories.
Though overwhelming in so many ways, it’s an exciting time to imagine and witness what media makers are doing today with nearly infinite content now accessible at their fingertips and with high-powered tools that can capture, collate, cross-pollinate and transform recorded actualities socially. Most often at the edges of corporate commercial culture, experiments are occurring, forms are emerging, expectations are evolving, and all of it may soon be available at a theater near you. Or most likely, found through a touch of a screen in your hand or wrapped around your head.
And while media artists and visionaries gather, explore, twist and create with mind and heart, evermore sophisticated and incessant algorithms and applications continue to process and convey our lives’ secretions – and tell our stories – also in new and different ways. Just consider your Facebook timeline and its reformulation of your life lived online presented back to you and to all who care to see it each year. And in 2016, a new platform called Eterni.me plans to launch. The stated goal from their site is to collect “almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and process this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms.” Though Eterni.me is the first, we can count on other market driven competitors to jump in soon enough to “generate a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends, even after you pass away.”
But until then, older, time-tested forms will persist for a bit longer, and the film essay might just be a dynamic and enduring way to try and express what is going on at such remarkable speeds around us. So with emotion and a handmade touch, bits and pieces of a visual archive that was shot, but disconnected by space and time, across nearly 75 years is brought together in the form of this short film called ARCHIVE.
And looking back from today to just two years ago to when the film was finished, it seems like life moved just a bit slower even then. Maybe all we can really ask from a break in the digital speed of living is to take a moment, sit back in the dark and reflect, together.
ARCHIVE (2013, 40:00 minutes) screens at International House on Wednesday, February 11 at 7:00 pm followed by an open discussion. All invited. Admission is free.