Archive Researchers

Featuring: Aleksandra Sajdak


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Why and when did you start being interested by archives, History and Heritage in general?

I was interested in the history from my very early ages. Growing up in Warsaw you are surrounded by the recent tragic events, but also you are becoming more and more interested in the layers of the city. The more you learn, the more you discover. Thanks to my parents, my grandparents, history was always present in my home.

You are an active member of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, Poland. Could you tell us a bit more about the history, the building of the collection and your work with this institution?

I can talk about Jewish Historical Institute for hours. It’s my second home. It’s a very, very unique place in Warsaw’s history, in the Polish-Jewish history, and I think it’s also has a very important place in a Jewish history in general. 85% of the left side of the Vistula river was destroyed during the war, we don’t have many original buildings, but the building of the JHI survived and serves the Jewish community till today. Before the war, the building was the headquarters of the Main Judaic Library and of the Institute for Judaic Studies. The latter opened on February 9th, 1928, became the first Jewish research and educational center in Europe which, alongside theological studies, also took into account secular studies. The building of the Main Judaic Library was built adjacent to the Great Synagogue at T?omackie Street.It was opened in 1936. During the war, our building was one of the centers of Jewish social life in the Warsaw ghetto. From November 16th, 1940 until March 1942, the Library building was within the ghetto borders. Here the literary evenings, theater performances, meetings for children and symphony concerts took place. Also, there took place conspiratorial meetings of the Oneg Shabbat (Hebrew: Joy of Sabbath) which, under the direction of the historian Emanuel Ringelblum was gathering comprehensive documentation of the life and the extermination of the Jews in occupied by the Nazi German Poland during World War II. On May 16th, 1943, as a sign of the suppression of any resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, the SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Polizei Jürgen Stroop ordered the dynamiting of the Great Synagogue and torching of the Library building. By doing this, he symbolically achieved “the final solution of the Warsaw Jewry.”Traces of the fire are visible on the floor of the main hall of the Institute until this day, but building survived. During the war 90% of Polish Jewry was killed, the one who managed to survived established Center Committee of Polish Jews, with a headquarter on T?omackie Street. In 1947 Jewish Historical Institute was opened, as a first Holocaust research center and for me, this place is a symbol of the continuity of Jewish life in Poland

Are Polish people becoming more interested and open to learn about the Jewish heritage of their country?

It’s a very interesting phenomenon, but I think people feel the gap. 75 years ago Poland was multiethnic country, now 90% of the country are “ethnic” Poles (whatever that means). And I think this is amazing, that so many non-Jews are helping with the old cemeteries,  old synagogues, Jewish heritage in general. People are interested in a Jewish culture, books, music, religion, but also many of them realized that there is no Polish culture without Jews, and there is no Ashkenazi culture without Poles. When I see a huge crowd during festivals devoted to the Jewish culture my heart is happy, and I am talking about not only big festivals, like Kraków, Wroc?aw or Warsaw but also in smaller cities. There are so many local historians, crazy people ( in a good way) who wants to know more about the Jewish past of their cities, towns, villages. There is a lot of good initiatives and amazing people, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us. People have to remember or acknowledge more than 3 million Poles, non-Jews victims of the German occupation, but some Poles need to acknowledge the hard truth about the war and time of Shoah, not every Pole helped his/her Jewish neighbor in need… Unfortunately. But only honest dialogue will help us.

The polish documentary film « The Prince of the Dybbuk » received the Venice Classics Award for the Best Documentary won. Are Polish people becoming more interested and open to learn about the Jewishheritage of their country? 

As I said above, there is no Polish culture without Jews and Jewish culture. Many of the Polish directors, books, music were influenced by the Jewish tradition, made by Jewish Poles, so I think Poles are generally aware that their favorite poet has Jewish roots, and the Jewish subject is very present on every level in Poland. In the culture, heritage, politics, all the time. Though every generation has different tools to talk about the heritage, past, shared experience, memory and I think this generation wants to have a deeper conversation about it. Not only the “romantic” image of the Jew as a Fiddler on the Roof but the conversation about Polish Jews. About the identity, thoughts, religion, what does it mean to be a Polish Jew? What does it mean to me?

Do you think there has been a recent surge in archival driven documentary? What is your general view on the current state of the Polish doc industry. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have any statistics in this field but seeing what is going on around me I think there is a huge interest in the documentary work, but when you think about it, there always was. Even during the communist era, when people didn’t have access to the outside iron curtain world, people were curious and very creative, and the work of the documentalists from that period is really impressive.

What resources do you mostly use for your research? 

Archives, newspapers, business directories, immigration/emigration documents, testimonies, it depends.

Could you tell us a bit more about the profession of Archive Researcher in Poland? 

The world of researchers are divided into the one who is doing it professionally in the archives, libraries, public institutions and they are not very well paid. And then there is a second group – private researchers who make a lot of money for doing research and among this group you have another subgroup very devoted and passionate about their work, and the second one who is mainly focused on the financial aspect. Today overall it’s much better, but sometimes you can still see the remnants of the “homo sovieticus”/communist in the behavior in the archives but it’s getting better 🙂

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What is the archive discovery you are the most proud of? 

I know maybe it’s stupid, but I am collecting pictures of T?omackie Street and Great Synagogue in Warsaw, and recently I found an extremely rare picture of T?omackie street. But every day at my work as a genealogist I see small miracles. Sometimes are bigger like founding two sisters separated 70 years ago, but sometimes the location of the house of the family, or occupation or university file with handwriting is something really special for me.

Can you give us a sneak peek into a project you are currently working on? 

There is a chanukia (candelabra for Chanuka)  in a Diaspora Museum in TLV and they claimed is from the Great Synagogue in Warsaw. In my humble opinion, it’s not from our synagogue and I am trying to prove it. Though it will be a long process we will what will happen. I have few very interesting genealogical cases but can’t talk about it without the permission of our guests. So more to come, stay tuned!

Documentary Productions, Rare footage

Interview with Rich Remsberg, on his work for the latest Netflix docuseries ‘Bobby Kennedy for President’


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‘Bobby Kennedy for President’ is shaping up to be one of Netflix’s biggest documentary releases of 2018. The four-part series is not only a fascinating study of American politics during that period but also an intimate portrait of the complex Robert Kennedy. We had the chance to catch up with the series’ Archival Producer, Rich Remsberg, who is also a member of our international community of professional archive researchers. We spoke about the monumental archive research and production that made this series a true achievement in historical documentary.

How did you get involved in the project? There are plenty of films dedicated to the Kennedy’s, what made this one unique for you?

From the initial phone call with the producers, it was clear that this project would go deeper than the usual treatment of Robert Kennedy. For starters, the four-hour format allowed for the archival to breathe in a way that is not possible in shorter docs. The intelligence that the director and producers conveyed in talking about the story suggested that they understood RFK’s complexities and contradictions and that this story would be told with a good deal of dimension.

USA. New York City. 1966. Portrait of Robert KENNEDY in his apartment.

Considering the enormous volume of archives coming from multiple sources, how did you manage to organize the workflow?

Largely by relying on colleagues! During the research phase of the project, I was focused on finding material; our archival co-producer, Brian Becker, sorted and tracked it all. We used color coding and a couple of pretty straightforward spreadsheets on Google Docs, and Brian had a lot in his head. Our assistant editors ran a very tight ship, and our story producer, Elizabeth Wolff, had total recall for every aspect of RFK’s history.

For managing costs and licensing, I had a more complicated set of linked Excel spreadsheets to accommodate the four individual episodes and project totals. I came to see spreadsheets as something like crossword puzzles, where the game is to fill in every square.

What was the most challenging part of the process?

Without question, the most difficult part of the project was the effort to get footage from archives that would not grant access or made it difficult. There were several, with varying reasons and importance to the project, and they resolved in different ways. For political and politeness sake, I won’t go into details, but it was extremely stressful and we lost a lot of sleep over it. My hair was actually falling out in clumps.

Negotiating terms to meet our budget and ironing our contract language for so many different sources was also a challenge. Because we started ordering for the first hour before we knew what we were using in the fourth, it was especially awkward. I’m grateful to the archives who were willing to work with us on this.

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Rich Remsberg in his home studio.

What was your ‘eureka’ moment?

Hard to say, the production schedule didn’t leave much time for savoring in such things. Certainly, finding the footage of Marian Wright Edleman testifying before the Senate committee was an important moment. She speaks so unbelievably beautifully, and she laid out most of what we needed for the exposition of RFK’s southern poverty tours. It also alerted the team to her as a contemporary interview, and she added a lot to the film in that respect.

Another important moment was finding Howard K. Smith’s critical commentary on the Kennedys. There wasn’t much in the way of television news commentary in those early years – Smith and one other commentator were about it. I went through a lot of old TV listings to find references to the original aired programs, but the films were not in the ABC archives. There was a moment of panic, but then I managed to find surviving reels of enough of the programs at the University of Wisconsin. We were able to access from UW and clear with ABC.

Is there a specific piece of footage that you are the most proud of?

There are probably bigger moments to point to, but I liked a lot of the small details, mostly from local news archives, that helped paint a very human picture of Bobby – both the ways people connected with him and their deep dislike of him: Paul Newman’s terse comments from WTMJ, the woman with the excellent bouffant hairdo from Southern Methodist, a dozen different pieces from University of Georgia.

Bobby Kennedy for President

Did you use any international sources to bring fresh new perspectives to the story?

Only a British Pathé newsreel and a British interview that is now in an American archive. This was mostly a US-focused story. For the beats on RFK’s travel to Europe and South Africa, we mostly relied on coverage from the National Archives and the networks.

Could you tell us a bit more about your relationship with the director? How did the script evolve over time with the footage you found?

I worked with Dawn Porter, the director, and Laura Michalchyshyn, the Executive Producer, mostly on big-picture aspects of the project: tone, overall story, the nature of Bobby’s character, key elements, and so forth. Also on budget and legal concerns. For the more specific development, I worked closely with Elizabeth and Brian, considering how to fill story beats, figuring how best to use different pieces of archival, how the archival could build the story structure. As Elizabeth developed the script, there was a lot of her hitting me with requests and my finding the footage quickly to get it into the edit.

Everyone on the project favored using the best footage we could and figuring out how to clear and pay for it later. That made for some long days toward the end, but I think it paid off on the screen.

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Dawn Porter, the director of the series

Netflix is putting a strong focus on heavy archive-driven projects, proving that there is a real demand for the genre. What was the key to creating an immersive experience for a broad audience? How do you think the film appeals to a younger generation?

I think we’ve recently entered a golden age for archival documentaries. One of the best things about that is the platform allows for greater integrity of archival material. Rather than dropping bits of illustrative archival into one- to six-second slots during interviews, there is time for the archival to breathe, to create a more cohesive immersive environment, to convey subtlety, to suggest mood, to express more complex thoughts, to live with contradiction, to get a visceral feel for the atmosphere of the time. OJ was great about this, so was Wild Wild Country. We’re seeing it more and more. I’ve been saying that four hours is the new hour.

Another is that by virtue of being archival-driven it can be less mediated. Interviews can still offer some perspective and keep the story on track, but allowing the archival to carry the historical information leaves more space for the viewer to bring his or her own understanding to the story. I think the best films leave the audience with a complex understanding of the subject and room for different viewers to have different understanding.

I don’t know how many meetings I’ve been in where an executive producer says that young people just aren’t interested in history. I’ve never believed that to be true, and what I’ve found from talking to actual young people is that they expect the visuals to look good, and they don’t want the film to tell them what to think.

How do you think the movie resonates with the audience considering the current political and social developments in USA?

Hoo boy, this really merits a much longer rant, but in the interest of space, I’ll say that 1968 was a node in history where we might have taken a better path. It can be dangerous to play with counterfactual what-ifs, but it’s hard not to entertain at least a thought of that road not taken. I don’t harbor a simple belief that Bobby would have taken us into a beautiful sunlight-bathed world of compassion and justice, but he was an extremely powerful voice – arguably the best voice – for growing in a more mature way as a country, in understanding what it means to be an American citizen.

But here we are, a half century later, with the path taken, a selfish decline to the end of empire. At the same time, there are also other forces at work, and it’s right to ask where in that Bobby’s spirit dwells. It can certainly be found in much of the political resistence, of course, and I think it can be found in our individual sense of decency – not only in committed activists or people who even identify as especially political, just regular people whose conscience says, No that’s not okay; I recognize a different responsibility, and I feel something kinder.

We were never able to fit it into the film, but we tried working with the Dion song, “Abraham, Martin, and John.” It’s a romantic piece that misconceives the killing of Lincoln, JFK, King, and RFK. The part that still gives me chills, though, is the bridge where he asks the simple questions, “Didn’t you love the things they stood for? Didn’t they try to find some good in you and me?”


Rich Remsberg is part of Archive Valley’s community which boasts 500+ talented archive researchers in over 60 countries. If your production needs an archival researcher/producer, you can sign up and find the right person for the job in just a couple of easy steps.

 

Documentary Festivals, Uncategorized

Archive Topics at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018


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Sheffield Doc/Fest is UK’s biggest documentary festival welcoming 32,700+ visitors each year, including more than 3,500 industry professionals from over 60 countries. In addition to the rich and diverse film screening program, the festival offers tons of great events dedicated to the innovation, craft and business of the documentary industry. Attended by many archival producers and researchers, the topic of archive footage use will be featured in the screening program, in addition to several talks. We’ve prepared a quick guide highlighting everything dedicated to archives at this year’s festival.

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Licensing

Understanding Archive Footage Agreements


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When researching archive footage for use in audiovisual productions, there are a few types of legal agreement used by archive footage vendors or institutional collections that outline for content producers: a) the rights and liabilities associated with the use of archive footage, b) the costs associated with licensing material and/or obtaining hi-res copies, and c) the legal jurisdiction of the agreement. These agreements often also detail any rights not covered in the agreement and for which the licensor is liable – and thus responsible to clear on their own.

Suffice it to say that understanding these documents is primordial for anyone who wishes to use archival footage in their productions. It can be complicated and is usually best left to a specialist archive producer, but for those going it on their own, here is a quick(ish) rundown.  (more…)

Archive Researchers, Documentary Festivals, Rare footage

MIPDoc2018: Key takeaways from Archive Valley’s panel​ talk with James Hunt and Thorsten Pollfuss


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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.” 
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