Who: Andrea Kalas
What: VP Archivist for Paramount Pictures
Where: She resides in the Atwater Village section of Los Angeles, but is in New Orleans for the Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference.
Q: What did you save up money for to buy as a kid?
AK: My parents surrounded me with great books, classical music and trips to museums so of course I saved my money to buy Archie comic books. It was so different than anything I knew. My family moved around a lot. My parents were academics, so we lived in Washington D.C. and Oklahoma and Illinois and Mississippi and lots of other places. Maybe reading about the mythical Riverdale was a way to have consistency. Who knows [laughing].
Q: What would you like to see perfectly still?
AK: Stasis is part of archiving. You have to keep things still. Take a film negative; it is most happy when it’s not being touched, but for anyone to see that film, you have to get the negative out, scan it, and make a copy that people can see. So we put measures in place to limit the way or number of times a negative is touched. Yet, we believe in access because what is the point of preserving something if no one can see it or touch it or interact with it? We are constantly dealing with that tension between stasis and activity.
I would also love to see technology in a museum or where you could project a beautiful, new 35mm print without ever hurting that print. You could always go somewhere to see a beautifully photographed film like There Will Be Blood perfectly projected. That’s one of the issues with projecting 35mm–the minute you project it, you damage it. A filmmaker could have spent weeks working with a cinematographer to get the look perfect, and then when you send it to the projection booth, it will never look that way again. It’s so heartbreaking.
Film is getting rarer and rarer, and you want to share it, and you also want to make sure you don’t destroy it for future generations. That is one of the many reasons AMIA started their Projection Workshops, among many other initiatives – to train and maintain the art and craft of projection.
Q: When do you know you are in trouble?
AK: If you have the responsibility for a film collection, there is a basic low-level anxiety that goes with that all of the time. I always tell people who work with me, ‘Our number one job is not to lose anything.’ That’s an anxious feeling, especially when you have millions of things not to lose.
And, no archive stands alone; it’s always part of another organization or entity. I work at Paramount Pictures, and I run their archive. An archivist is acting on behalf of that organization, which means you need the support of your governing body. Significant support. That’s another constant piece of work that creates a low-level anxiety.
Archivists are really successful at managing these anxieties and the collections we care for. That is what we excel at, so that anxiety rarely turns into horror because we are great at what we do.
Q: What do you never organize?
AK: I don’t think I would be alone among archivists in this. I went home from work one day to my husband after a meeting at Paramount, and in the meeting someone said, ‘You must be one of those people who when you open the sock drawer all of the socks are color coordinated.’ I told my husband that, and he fell off the chair laughing.
I would feel incredibly proud if I had a drawer that just had socks and not a million other things. But I can’t when I get home. Eight hours of that kind of intense organization at work is enough.
Q: Tell us about your relationship with and to gloves?
AK: I have worn the white cotton gloves when inspecting film. If you are handling old film, it is very dirty, and you can help clean the film a bit without getting your fingerprints on the emulsion. But the stray cotton fibers have to be watched…
In the archival community, there is debate between using clean hands versus cotton gloves when working with precious objects. There are also debates over whether you should put film in metal or plastic cans, if you should put film at below freezing temperatures or not, or if digital is really a preservation method.
That’s the great thing about the AMIA conference. It is an open forum so people can figure these dilemmas out by expressing their opinions and coming up with a solution that is best for the material.
Andrea Kalas has served as President of AMIA for two years and is at the AMIA conference, which includes several panel discussions and screenings to help those who have moving image collections of cultural or historical value but limited access to resources for their care, while here in New Orleans. The conference will be running from November 29 until December 2. The conference is predominantly free and open to the public, and you can view a full schedule as well as become a member of AMIA here.