How did you become an archival researcher?
I’ve always loved movies and watched too much TV as a kid. I took film studies and joined research groups in film history, both academic and independent. That’s how I became aware about archives and preservation. At the same time, I have always wanted to make movies. The discovery of a Metropolis print in Buenos Aires Film Museum and making a documentary about it made me realize that I wanted to do research for documentary productions, that way I could put my two passions together.
As an archival researcher, what can you say about the relation between Argentina and archives? Have you noticed any differences compared to other countries in South America?
There isn’t something like a common ground in South America regarding archives. In Argentina, archive research is a job inside TV stations. However, independent production houses make most of the documentary productions that require archive footage. When the documentary is too complex, because documents are unavailable or the historical events have not been reviewed in audiovisual productions before, they hire people like me to do this part of the work. That implies going through public and private collections, digitizing, licensing. And of course, helping directors to tell great stories.
You are one of the very few archival producers in South America. How does that translate in a pragmatic way?
I have made very good friends in the last years working with colleagues in many countries in the region who I can recommend! What is common in the region is that we don’t have good access to footage or stills online. Broadcasters are difficult to access, their fees are too high, and archives have different regulations to release reproductions. That makes you “learn the ropes” locally and we develop some sort of “archive wise” by consulting and dealing with different kinds of archives. Most of them are based in Buenos Aires, but sometimes I travel to other provinces to do local research. Next week I’m going to Cordoba to work at the University Audiovisual Archive, one of the best in the country.
This is why I developed a kind of system to approach every production in which I try to apply social science research methods in primary sources. I design a strategy to every production. Last year I coordinated research in 10 countries in Latin America for a TV series called Mediapolis, still in post production. I realized that it was better to hire local researchers instead of traveling to every country and the design was very useful, because we had a budget and a schedule and a story to tell, so every researcher in every country could do things their way for a final common result. Although I am a freelancer I love working in teams.
You have a passion for audiovisual preservation and film history. Besides sharing this passion through teaching Film History at the University of Buenos Aires, you’ve also co-directed a documentary about the incredible finding of a reel with lost scenes from Fritz Lang’s, Metropolis (1927).
Well, having the chance of being near everything that happened with Fritz Lang’s masterpiece was an eye opening experience where film history, research and preservation came together. As a film history teacher I watch and read about Metropolis at least a couple of times every year. So, when I saw the newfound copy of the film I immediately realized which scenes hadn’t been seen before. It was magical. Making Metropolis Refundada (2010) was a turning point because since then I became a full time archive producer and researcher.
You’ve recently been involved in another documentary, Nitrate Flames (2014) that sheds light on film history and lost archives. What was your role in this project?
This documentary features the legendary French actress, Renée Falconetti, who brought to life the character, Joan of Arc, in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 film, and who died in Buenos Aires.
Metropolis was found in 2008, and I joined Mirko Stopar (the Norwegian director of Nitrate Flames) as a researcher by 2009. It was great to work with both silent films because I learned a lot about licensing and faced the harsh truth about public domain. Then Nitrate Flames became a film in which the limits between real and “produced” archive footage are erased. It was really interesting to help Mirko build a language through using archive footage to tell Falconetti’s story. We used newsreels, Argentinean classics, home movies from the 1930s. Mirko is very keen in film history so we made a good team.
You’re currently working on an installation in Buenos Aires. A few words about it?
I’ve been doing a very particular kind of research lately. I’m helping Lola Arias in the documentary pieces of her installation in Parque de la Memoria, a place dedicated to the memory of the 30.000 people killed by the last dictatorship. Lola is indeed now presenting her last performance in London, “Minefield” about the Falklands war, which signals the beginning of the end of the military government. She approaches history from an experimental perspective and I am providing her with footage and audio tracks from news archives. It’s challenging because the kind of document we are after hasn’t been preserved properly, so I’ve been digging deep in archives and that made me think about what media archives decide to keep or discard. It’s very interesting to look for things in the trash bin. It talks about politics, at least in a country like Argentina.