Archive Valley was thrilled to attend MIPDoc 2018. The event, dedicated to non-fiction programming, hosts 700 participants from over 50 countries—making it a perfect stage for Archive Valley to showcase our passion for archival footage and research. Our CEO Melanie Rozencwajg worked with an amazing team behind the event to organize and lead a panel discussion about the enormous potential of rare archives, and how they empower storytelling through unique global perspectives. The title of the panel was “Archives & Storytelling: Unearthing Unique Footage at a Global Scale.”
We had the privilege of inviting two experts on stage to shed light on this topic: Thorsten Pollfuss (Epoche Media), a renowned German producer with extensive experience in the documentary genre; and James Hunt (BITC Films), a prolific British archival producer and member of Archive Valley’s researcher community. Our goal was to showcase extremely creative and extensive use of archives from both the producer and researcher side.
Thorsten Pollfuss discussed his work on an ambitious documentary project directed by Herman Polking titled The Hitler Chronicles. The production of this film took five years, resulting in a cinema release clocking in at more than seven hours long. Additionally, a three hour festival version was released with a 13×50 minute TV series format. The Hitler Chronicles follows Hitler’s life from birth to death, providing a unique, contemporary interpretation of his life events. It contains more than 900 archive films and 100 hours of 8mm/16mm footage from 120 sources. A total of 40% of the footage in this documentary was never before seen, and all of it was eventually rendered in HD.
From the archive research side, James Hunt shared his experience working on My Generation, a new documentary exploring the birth of British pop culture in the 1960’s produced and narrated by Sir Michael Caine. The film is 95% archive-based, and just like The Hitler Chronicles, it took roughly five years to produce. The numbers behind the archive research are similarly impressive – 1500 hours of footage from 350 sources in dozens of countries. As a member of Archive Valley’s community, we were fortunate to have Hunt share his rich professional experience in the field and talk broadly about the research process.
Archive research was at the center of production for both The Hitler Chronicles and My Generation. Examining topics and eras that are well-documented thanks to widely available technology allowed for a wide degree of freedom and creativity. At the same time, it made the task of selecting the right archive footage extremely time consuming. Assessing the uniqueness of the material and its potential to bring a fresh perspective proved essential in shaping a completely new exploration of these popular subjects. For both films, the research required combing through enormous volumes of footage from many international sources. According to Hunt, spending years hunting down precious footage hopefully leads to special ‘Eureka’ moments. “I think it’s my favorite clip in the whole film…that’s actually from Canada and the Canadian Archives…and how good it was – 16mm, 1966 – they hadn’t event started to broadcast in color, and why they filmed it and how they filmed in color, I don’t even know…”
For My Generation, the archive research started right after the idea of the film was born, and long before the actual script was written. As Hunt recalls, “There was no script, no real treatment…We [were] given a unique opportunity to really spend a lot of time and lot of money; first going through all the usual sources, UK Archives, as an exercise [of] what not to use. So we had to watch it all and then go: right, let’s now find something different. So at the end of the process we had 1500 hours of footage, 500 hours of archive audio, and tens of thousands of photos, and we’ve watched it all – myself, the editor and the director.”
This painstaking process enabled the team to craft an incredibly rich story. “Each edit in the film means something, it’s not just cobbled together. You can really see the intention, every single edit means something, goes somewhere,” said Hunt. You can also check out our in-depth interview with James Hunt detailing the incredibly ambitious and challenging production that My Generation turned out to be.
In The Hitler Chronicles, it was the personal amateur archives that provided a unique point of view that the creators were looking for. “Amateur footage gives you the chance to show how it was in reality, and not how it was transported by newsreels or another censored media. However, making the best out of those ‘one of a kind’ archival sources naturally comes with a whole range of technical problems,” said Pollfuss.
“One of the problems [is finding] footage that you can restore to HD standards and the other is to have a balance between color and black and white footage. The old days where you can just put the archive footage on TV as pal or NTSC – they are over as you have Netflix and they want to have [the footage] at least in HD.”
This panel discussion raised many interesting points, covering different aspects of archive research that not only steered the direction of these two productions, but that are also highly relevant for any archive-driven documentary. We are living in the “Golden Age for archives.” There are tons of creative films being made thanks to growing access to unique archives and the public’s growing appetite for these types of films. It has never been easier to discover history, biographies, and non-factual content with fresh and contemporary perspectives. This viewpoint was certainly felt and supported by all the excitement and industry knowledge shared at MIPDoc 2018.
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