What exactly is MACE?
We are one of a number of regional film archives that are dotted around England. We work closely with our regional film archive colleagues as well as the BFI National Archive, and Welsh and Scottish National Film Archive to deliver public film archive services. BFI is, by some distance, the largest player, and holds the most significant collections of cinema and television in the UK. But the other smaller archives hold significant collections on film, video and in moving image digital files which I think relate to the culture and history of place. That’s what our driving motivation is.
Why do you think our shared moving image history is an important thing to preserve?
Moving images have been around since the mid-1890s. In those 120-odd years, they’ve added to the unique and important way of understanding who we are, and where we’ve come from. Can you imagine how our understanding of history would be enhanced if we’d had film of, for example, the Battle of Waterloo?
How much does the public perception of film and television inform what you do?
Film is still regarded as a bit commercial and not taken as seriously as other media. A colleague of mine suggested recently that one of the reasons is because it’s not hard. To understand a book you have to learn to read, but to understand film or television you just have to be.
Have you found anything unique about the footage you’ve archived from the Midlands?
Not really, but it’s uniquely important that there is an organisation like this collecting with a focus on it. Back in 2000 I was in London having a meeting with funders from the UK Film Council. They could not comprehend why anybody would be interested in a film about Skegness. If you were to take a film about Skegness, and put it on in East Lincolnshire, and put any major British feature film next door, I suspect more people would turn up to see the film about Skegness. What’s important is that there are organisations like ourselves exploring this medium with recognition that what we’re collecting is significant.
How do you determine what is and what isn’t significant?
Significance is not something that is inherent in a piece of film; it is something that we bring to it. What’s important with what we’re doing is recognising footage that some people might not think is terribly interesting or important actually has great significance in the context of regional history. Equally, what might be considered insignificant today could be imbued with significance over time, and second-guessing what might be important in years to come is impossible to achieve.
What preconceptions do you have to combat?
The word ‘archive’ still conjures up the image of somebody rooting around dusty shelves in semi-darkness. Whereas archives are just places where things are kept, and archive film is merely a film, or video, or digital file that has been selected to be included within an archive. Also, material held in archives is not necessarily old – there are things in our collection that were made by current students on the media course here at Lincoln.
How much of your time is spent trying to rebrand archiving as a practice?
For that to have any kind of impact at all we have to develop a lot of partnerships – that’s how we reach people. We want to have a higher profile, and to be in the public’s consciousness. A part of that is trying to move film archiving into an area where it isn’t considered something special. I want people to consume it, to understand it, to appreciate it. It’s just film.
How has the public response been so far?
Those that we work with are always very enthusiastic. It’s not always easy to engage them, but we do offer a service at both ends. We exist to help people who have stuff and want to know what to do with it, but we also facilitate the use of the archived material either by ourselves, other people screening it or its use in television or film. We want to make it as accessible as we possibly can.
And how about the screenings you put on?
If, for example, we approached Broadway and said we wanted to put on a film of Nottingham, you can be fairly sure that it would be full at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. An older demographic audience will always turn out - there’s a nostalgia aspect with people of a certain age; they want to be taken back to their youth.
Midlands News Gaitskell
What about the younger generation?
They’ve got lots of new things to engage with, why would they want to look at some old piece of film from the sixties? Finding reasons and context for it to be interesting is challenging. A big part of it is finding partners to help us do that. We might not be the best people to determine how people should see the footage, but we want people to know that we have got a fantastic resource here which we are interested in people using, however they want to use it. It’s there for us, for historians, for filmmakers, for anybody who wants to use it. Provided it doesn’t contravene any laws or our code of practice, I’m happy for it to be used in any kind of way.
What specific projects are you currently involved in?
We’re currently involved in a major project with the BFI, which focuses on making new digital copies of material. We’re currently copying about 25 titles a week. That is all being supplied to the BFI Player, which in the summer will launch a major new strand called ‘Britain On Film’. I’m also developing a new project that will try to broaden the engagement with MACE. At the moment, much of what we have is a rather narrow demographic of the region. We have a significantly large and growing collection of home movies, which are a unique cultural artefact in the way that they reflect people’s lives.
Because home movies were expensive to produce, they tended to be quite a middle class activity until video came along. The reflection of the region tends to be from the fifties, sixties and seventies, and a very white, middle class reflection of the region. So this project will try to specifically work in partnership with organisations across the East Midlands that have links with minority communities that may have engaged with moving images in one way or another, but who have no engagement with us at this stage.
How can people get involved with MACE?
We are always interested in hearing about all kinds of moving images that have been produced in or about the Midlands. Especially the sort of people who would read LeftLion, Nottingham’s independent filmmakers and artists. We’re interested in making sure that stuff is properly looked after and is made available. We’re not collectors looking for people to give us stuff just so we can have it – we’re facilitators of long-term preservation and accessibility.
An interview with the father and son behind the Notts video that went viral
"We set up filmmaking workshops for homeless people that were about pulling together as a team and raising confidence and self esteem"
"What we’re trying to do is start broader conversations between videogaming and the rest of culture"