- An Interview With Caroline Frick of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the University of Texas at Austin Department of Radio-Television-Film
Caroline frick serves as an assistant professor in the radio-tv-film department at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition, she is the founder and Executive Director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI), an organization devoted to the discovery and preservation of media related to the state. TAMI’s online library offers thousands of newly discovered historical films and video free of charge via www.texasarchive.org. Prior to her work in Texas, Dr. Frick worked in film preservation at Warner Bros., the Library of Congress, and the National Archives in Washington, DC. Dr. Frick also programmed films for the American Movie Classics cable channel in New York and currently serves as the President of the Board for the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Her book, Saving Cinema, was published in 2011 by Oxford University Press. She has published in a variety of journals including the International Journal of Heritage Studies, The Moving Image, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, and The Journal of Popular Film and Video.
VLT: During your time as both an archivist and a scholar, have you observed any major shifts in practical or scholarly approaches to film archiving and preservation?
Caroline Frick: I’ve noticed many changes, but I think anybody who is a historian or an archivist at heart likes to look at the similarities. I struggle to say that there’s been a great deal of change. When I started out my career in the film preservation community, it was during a heyday—not the heyday but a heyday in terms of interest in Hollywood preservation. The 1990s were a period in which public awareness of the major nitrate archives was higher, stemming from the highly publicized film colorization debates. What I’ve seen since then is the rise in the metaphor of the orphan film and rising cognizance or acknowledgment that film is just one of the components of the moving image past.
On the scholarship side, from my perspective, I think there’s been a flip. In the 1990s, when film preservation had a buzz on a national level, I don’t think there was much interest in “archives” or “preservation” from academia. Now, as the popular tensions seem to have waned, within academia I am startled by the kind of interest in the concept and practice of the archive. And I think those two shifts are quite interrelated. [End Page 42]
What would you say are the biggest challenges facing film archives and archivists today?
I think it’s easy for us to use the term “film,” but I really advocate for “moving image.” It’s an interesting conundrum because you have a multiplicity of challenges. There’s always a financial challenge. Media preservation is so expensive. Technologically speaking, there’s a huge challenge because of the fact that media preservation is so tied to industry that in some ways preservation practice has to follow industrial practice. Furthermore, there are no standards for digital preservation. And, like it or not, that’s where we are. The industry has not come together to create digital preservation standards in the same way that you had a standard, eventually, of 35mm. It’s very much like we’re back in the late nineteenth century, with people scrambling for different kinds of film gauges and various nations getting involved.
I think there are other challenges as well. That cohesion that film archivists arguably had in the twentieth century is not there in the same way. People are struggling to find the commonalities between something like the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Cinémathèque Française. Today, it’s more fragmented.
Building off some of your points about digital media and digital technology in the industry, how has the increased reliance on digital technologies changed how we build, use, and interpret archives?
The impact of digital technologies has been significant. When videotape arrived, and, one might even argue, when small-gauge film arrived, these same kinds of transitions...