My CHASE-funded placement at the archive of the Cinémathèque française

My CHASE-funded placement at the archive of the Cinémathèque française, where I spent three months taking stock of films pertaining to their sub-Saharan African collections, has informed and transformed my ongoing PhD research in profound ways.

At the beginning of my internship, I was taught how to handle analogue film stock, operate the editing table and undertake small restorations. I also received training in the examination, assessment and documentation of film prints. Finally, I was introduced to the Cinémathèque’s central database, where I would enter all my findings and, aided by the archive’s in-house library as well as other resources, consolidate them with supplementary information regarding the films’ production, distribution, credits, and legal history. Often I would have to triangulate the sought-after data from different pieces of evidence, found in the pertinent literature or on the film prints themselves, which made for very engaging investigative work. After this initial training, my work at the archive was entirely self-directed. I was free to choose which films to see and inventory, meaning that I could tailor my selection to the guiding interests of my PhD thesis (concerned with the making, sharing and showing of moving images in countries newly emergent from colonial rule).

The staff at the archive, led by Céline Ruivo (who also acted as my placement supervisor), were exceptionally welcoming throughout my stay, available for inquiries and assistance at all times, and granted me insights into a wide variety of ongoing restoration, publication and exhibition projects. Once I had familiarised myself with the archival tools and protocols and established a working routine, which took me about a month, I was happily absorbed in my work, so much so, in fact, that I found it very hard to leave. Plans for a return to the archive in the not too distant future are already in the making.

I am immensely satisfied with the course and outcome of my placement. Céline encouraged me to write up an article on my archival research on the Cinémathèque’s sub-Saharan African collections, which will benefit my PhD project and publicise the archive’s efforts in safeguarding African cinema. We have also been discussing the possibility of putting together a retrospective of African films from the Cinémathèque’s holdings in collaboration with programming staff later in the year. The fragile materiality of analogue film is of central importance to my PhD thesis; coming in contact with it first-hand was both a humbling and enlightening experience. Last but not least, my stay in Paris did wonders for my rusty French – a boon to my research, which involves a lot of francophone primary and secondary sources.