Uncovering amateur films with MACE Curator Sue Winn


100s of events have been held across the UK & Europe during September to celebrate the annual Heritage Open Days festival. So, to open up the MACE archive we’re inviting you behind the scenes with Curator Sue Winn to learn about how she has been uncovering archive treasures from some 500+ films that we’re preserving as part of our ‘What Can You See?’ project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

 We asked Sue to describe her role on the project…

‘My work begins in the depths of the climate-controlled archive store where the films are preserved at a cool and steady temperature…

Thanks to HLF and the University of Lincoln, MACE now has the equipment necessary to digitize numerous early amateur films that have so far been passively preserved in the vault. I’m working on 18 film collections and, in most cases, am uncovering films which have remained unseen for years. 

My job is to retrieve the films and to assess their condition and content. Once located, the real excitement begins as the film is carefully checked and prepped and then run through a viewing machine (or ‘Steenbeck’) so the content can be accessed and key information extracted for our catalogue.’ 

So Sue, what features on the film?

‘The film I’m working on today opens in colour with high angle views over factory roofs. Then from ground level we discover a large factory building that appears to be under construction.

The final section takes a surprising turn with shots of a large number of men running towards the works’ canteen. Imagine doing that every day for your lunchbreak! A man cycling through on a bike does well not to get run over by hungry workers.’

 Do we know where the film came from?

‘This film is part of a collection deposited by Mr. G.R. Greenwood. The filmmaker was Mr. Greenwood’s grandfather, Mr. John W. Meredith. The collection was passed down through the family until it was acquired by MACE in 2012.’

 What do we know about when the film was shot and the locations and people that feature in the film? 

‘We know from speaking with the donors of the collection that the filmmaker was born 1888 in the Manchester area and that throughout his working life he lived in Wolverhampton. We examined small codes on the edge of the film to determine the age of the prints and know that this collection spans from approximately 1929 to 1952. By identifying landmarks and information within the films we know that many of the films were shot at the Thompson Brothers works of Bilston (including the film I am examining today) where Mr. Meredith was the works’ General Manager. Mr. Greenwood’s mother told him that her father used to regularly show the films at the works’ canteen. He retired to Herefordshire in 1953 and died in 1968.’

 What happens after you have examined the film?

Once the film has been prepped we digitize it using a specialist film scanner that is built to handle old, decayed and shrunk film. The film is captured at a very high resolution to create a master digital copy that we will preserve alongside the film original. Once scanned, the original film is stored safely in the vault and we use digital tools to correct imperfections in the digital copy, such as colour fade. Further digital copies are made for a range of viewing purposes. This process is vital to preserving the region’s screen heritage and, of course, in making material accessible for everyone to experience and learn from now and for generations to come.’

 So here’s the finished film…we hope you enjoy it! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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