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To preserve film is to project it: A conversation about networked archiving and the preservation of Japanese experimental film

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To preserve film is to project it: A conversation about networked archiving and the preservation of Japanese experimental film

  • Slought Foundation 4017 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA, 19104 United States (map)

Collaborative Cataloging Japan is pleased to collaborate with Slought Foundation in presenting "To preserve film is to project it," a conversation about networked archiving and the preservation of Japanese experimental film, on Friday, February 3, 2017 from 6:30-8:30pm. The event will feature presentations by Alexander Zahlten and Go Hirasawa, and will begin with a series of screenings from 6:30-7pm of Motoharu Jonouchi's Gewaltpia Trailer (1969) and Adachi Masao's Galaxy (1967), as well as other digitized rare 8mm films. 

"We tend to think of archiving as the inward movement of collecting things: finding bits and pieces, bringing them together, guarding them in a safe and stable place. The model of this type of archiving is the fortress, or the burning library. This model already provides a clear sense of the limits, or ends, of the archive: fire, flooding, data loss.

Can we think of the archive differently? When Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinémathèque Française, stated that "the best way to preserve film is to project it", he hinted at the very opposite philosophy of archiving: to actually use and consume things, to keep them in, or bring them into, circulation, and to literally throw them forth (Latin: proicere), into a shared and distributed process that operates based on diffusion, not consolidation, through imagination, not memory, and towards creation, not conservation."

-- Public Access Digital Media Archive (PADMA), "10 Theses on the Archive," April 2010, Beirut, Lebanon.

In contemporary archiving practices, the use of electronic networks and digital technology has become a significant strategy for gathering records while assuring wide access to the content. A wide range of organizational principles exist, such as formal and large-scale regional or national initiatives, "dispatch" style processes with designated researchers collaborating with one another, and publicly-created collections using crowdsourced and individual submission of cultural heritage images, sounds, and videos. Moreover, the act of archiving has often been decentralized, used by anyone with the inclination to gather traces of the past for historical study, preservation, and future development.

In the case of Japanese experimental film and video, archivization has been limited by the capacity of established institutions. Networked methods have the potential to balance insufficient resources, infrastructure, and planning on the part of professional archivists and institutions. The task of documenting and creating access has been taken up by independent scholars, curators, archivists, and small organizations. The event at Slought will build upon the work of two such scholars and archivists, Go Hirasawa (Meiji Gakuin University) and Alexander Zahlten (Harvard University), who have both worked to restore and distribute under-represented works.

The event will build upon the question of how Japanese experimental film can inform non-centralized methods of archiving. Hirasawa, a specialist of Japanese underground films, has worked with many filmmakers whose works were produced in the context of anti-establishment movements of the late 1960s and 1970s, and have not received attention from major film archives in Japan. He will speak about works by Motoharu Jonouchi, and a small screening program in Japan that led to international presentations and proceeds supporting restoration and preservation projects. Zahlten will introduce his project of digitally preserving and circulating 8mm films from Japan, including those stored with the PIA Film Festival in Japan, which began in 1977.

While these works are available to the archival communities involved, the legacy of Japanese experimental film and video remains largely inaccessible to the larger public. Please join us for this conversation on research, preservation, visibility, and Japanese experimental film.

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This event is made possible by the support of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Image: Film still from Motoharu Jonouchi's Gewaltpia Trailer, 1969. Courtesy Mineko Jonouchi.


Alexander Zahlten is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, and was Program Director for Nippon Connection Film Festival in Frankfurt, Germany from 2002 to 2010. His research on film and audiovisual culture in East Asia, especially Japan from the 1960s onward, focuses on the connection between larger economic, social, and institutional structures and media aesthetics. Zahlten is especially interested in the dynamics of contemporary media ecologies, and his recent work explores topics such as various modes of reflexivity, 'amateur' production, and the media mix’s effects on the changing role of fiction.

Go Hirasawa is a researcher at Meiji-Gakuin University working on experimental films and avant-garde art movements in 1960s and '70s Japan. His publications include Godard (Tokyo, 2002), Fassbinder (Tokyo, 2005), Cultural Theories: 1968 (Tokyo, 2010), Koji Wakamatsu: Cinéaste de la Révolte (Paris, 2010), and Masao Adachi: Le bus de la révolution passera bientot près de chez toi (Paris, 2012). He has organized many film exhibitions, including Masao Adachi (Cinematheque Française, 2010, Harvard Film Archive, 2013 and Rotterdam International Film Festival, 2016), Koji Wakamatsu (Cinematheque Française, 2010), Nagisa Oshima (Seoul Art Cinema, 2010), Art Theater Guild and Japanese Underground Cinema, 1960–1986 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012), and Throwing Shadows: Japanese Expanded Cinema in the Time of Pop (Tate Modern, 2016).