- Representation and Ethics in Moving Image Archives
Audiovisual archivist Snowden Becker writes that "acquisition of an object or collection of objects constitutes an implicit promise: that the institution will act as a custodian for both the physical package and the intellectual content and will preserve the material in a way consistent with professional practice and community standards."1 Fulfilling this custodial promise presents many ethical concerns for archives, particularly with regard to exhibition and access, that have been insufficiently addressed in the film archiving field. This article will focus on the code of ethics of the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) as a starting point for considering aspects of ethical practice in moving image archives. Although FIAF is an institutionally focused organization that does not encompass the existent range of [End Page 105] moving image archives and archivists, it is an influential organization and can raise attention to issues in the field through its practices. Additionally, the individually oriented Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) has only recently adopted a code of ethics from which an examination of guidelines for professional practice might arise. Though the circumstances of each repository are different, the general principles discussed here are relevant to both institutional and individual behavior at many moving image archives. Addressing insufficiencies within the FIAF code would set a precedent and encourage changes to the definition and awareness of ethical practice. Given that change must also be implemented and supported on the individual and non-FIAF institutional level, these concerns are also worth considering with regard to AMIA's code of ethics, which identifies "respect[ing] the value of moving images for their cultural, historical and/or artistic significance" as a primary goal.2
The FIAF code's shortcomings in addressing ethical practices in moving image curation, exhibition, and collection reflect the time period in which the code was written and the historical context of FIAF. FIAF was founded as an organization to "defend film 'art' against the barbarous hordes of cinema consumerism"; nontheatrical material such as home movies was regarded as "neither art, nor culturally respectable."3 The FIAF code of ethics was drafted in the mid-1990s, and its final text contains the suggestions and viewpoints of FIAF archives in 1997.4 Most of these archives were dealing only with feature films and documentaries; this orientation is reflected in the scope of the code's purpose, which does not encompass the differing concerns that exist for a range of nontheatrical moving images. Considerations pertaining to privacy, property, and rights of access are addressed to some degree in the FIAF code of ethics, but with minimal acknowledgment that such concerns may be in opposition to each other, particularly with regard to cultural representation and/or materials that lack the consent of the individuals depicted.
Such materials as documentary film, amateur film, and home movies frequently have significant historical, cultural, or educational value, serving as "a focus of discourse" that "enhances our collective understanding of individual, familial, and national historical circumstances"; however, they may be problematic with regard to the rights of the individuals represented.5 Ray Edmondson writes that audiovisual archivists have a "cultural and moral responsibility towards indigenous peoples" and must ensure "that collection material is handled and access given in ways that are compatible with the norms of their cultures."6 What, then, should the archivist do in situations where this responsibility conflicts with other professional responsibilities, such as legal obligations, and furthermore, which persons or processes should decide what constitutes "compatible" access and handling? The stipulations of the FIAF code fall short in providing resolutions to ethical dilemmas that balance legitimate public [End Page 106] interest and education, or the rights of donors and copyright holders, against individual or cultural rights. However, the guidelines of other professional organizations in the collecting fields such as the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM); the policies and experiences of moving image archives with significant collections of material depicting indigenous peoples such as the New Zealand Film Archive (NZFA) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Audiovisual Archive; and publications such as...