Archive Researchers

Featuring: Alessia Petitto, Rome

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What made you want to become a footage researcher?

After an Archeology degree and a masters in creative writing, I (literally) knocked on the door of a documentary production company and started my experience in the documentary field from there. Within the documentary production world, the most suitable role I found was being a researcher and above all an archive researcher: it seemed like the natural continuation of my past experiences. 

What do you enjoy in being an archive researcher in Italy? Is there a strong archival culture there?

At first glance, people might think that the archive researcher is like a misanthrope or a bookworm, working alone in front of a screen… But from what I see, being an archive researcher is above all about being curious and having a strong cultural & personal baggage. ‘Resonance’ is my key word in this job. To provide added value in your projects, you need to reverberate your own interests and your own passions. From my point of view, I consider Italy, with its cultural heritage and “old style” education system, a good starting point. On the other hand, the Italian language has no word for this role. I appreciate a lot the french one documentaliste, I’d be glad to have the same recognition here.

Any advice for someone looking for archival material in Italy? What are the best sources you can think of?

ArchivioLuce, and Rai are the main sources you can find here in Italy. While Archivio and Luce are almost completely available for online preview, Rai is only starting this process and to avoid long screening requests you would need an archive researcher onsite and this could represent a limitation. With these two archives you cover the entire Italian contemporary history, and up to the 1980’s the shooting quality, editing and style guarantees a footage with great visual impact. There is also another “boutique” archive: Archivio Ferrovie Dello Stato, held by the Italian Railway System. On their YouTube channel you can get a first taste of their stunning footage!

You belong to a new generation of archive researchers. What are your tools for researching footage?

Basically a laptop which means online archives, Youtube, Vimeo, newspapers, pictures… You also need a strong detail-oriented mind, a sensitive approach (often behind non-digitized footage there is a librarian and you need to involve him/her in your urgency!). Speaking many languages is obviously a great help for communicating and researching. For instance, in my current archive research job, I’ve noticed that some Spanish words would have been a huge asset in my tool bag…

You have worked on many projects including Malaria: Hitler’s Secret Weapon and Sport, Mafia, et Corruption for example. Can you tell us a bit about the projects you work on?

For 6 years I worked at GA&A Productions and basically I followed their documentaries as their researcher. I’ve been lucky: they produced above all historical documentaries, so, from the beginning, my researching field has been contemporary history.

What kind of project are you currently working on?

Currently I’m working on a documentary about the Catholic Church and Pope Francis. It’s an investigation which involves many countries and has given me the opportunity to discover new archives. This is also the first documentary for which I approached the Archive Valley tool: great experience, I’ve been put in contact immediately with so many foreign archives. Thanks a lot!

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