World Day for Audiovisual Heritage: Making WWI Material Available for Third Party Requests

World War One commemorations have provided the impetus for a number of projects at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage gives us a moment to celebrate this work undertaken to ensure the preservation of, and access to, audiovisual materials relating to New Zealand’s experience of World War One.

In this blog post, the third in our World Day for Audiovisual Heritage series, the archive’s Partnership department reflects on making WWI film materials available for use in documentaries, exhibitions, phone apps, theatre and plays, music performances, and news broadcasts

Read the first and second parts in the series.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision received an extraordinary number of requests for WWI footage leading up to Anzac Day 2015, which marked the 100 year landings of Gallipoli, as well as commemorating 100 years since New Zealand’s entry into WWI. Over this busy period we received a wide variety of requests from all over the world for a range of different projects, including: documentaries, exhibitions, phone apps, theatre and plays, music performances and news broadcasts.

A frame enlargement from Off to The Front (1918)
A frame enlargement from Off to The Front (1918)

Along with the enquires – came the questions and interesting comments.

We just need some action shots.”

There are precious little of these “glamour” shots that were repeatedly asked for. We have continually seen re-enactments of trench warfare in film, television and documentaries, so perhaps there is an imagined notion that there is an abundance of war footage. The reality is that it simply does not exist, as it was never shot or it did not survive. Although the footage we do carry does not depict WWI in action as such, what we do have in the collection collection is significant for two reasons.

Firstly, that we even have footage to begin with – given the fact that the medium of film was barely twenty years old in 1914. Most of the surviving footage we do have is of troops marching, leaving on ships, and being inspected.

This clip F1820 – Off to the Front (1914) shows the Wellington Infantry Battalion marching along Lambton Quay. It also includes a short snippet showing men from the 6th Reinforcement on board the troopship H.M.N.Z.T. No. 28 Tofua at King’s Wharf, and finally the ship steaming out of the harbour, on 11 August 1915 (see the film on our anzacsightsound.org.nz website here).

This has been one of the most popular titles requested, as it depicts real New Zealand men, departing on their big adventure. We only now know the bloody and awful horrors they were awaiting them on the other side of the world. Just because this footage does not depict a battleground, does not make it any less significant, arguably, this makes it even more so.

Secondly, as archivists we are excited that the films have survived, and have been preserved and cared for, so that these precious taonga or treasures may be able to be made available for the centenary, and hopefully many more commemorations in the future. Much work has been done by people like historian Chris Pugsley in helping identifying people, places and events in these films, along with countless hours and money spent on technical transfers, general preservation and digitisation.

One of the most challenging comments we received was: “this is out of copyright” – statements such as “this was made by the crown and I am working for the crown” and “this title is out of copyright, means it is fair game.” While titles may be out of copyright, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision still has obligations and responsibilities to our depositors and iwi. Depositors remain owners of the physical item that they deposit with us when it is in our care. When we receive third party requests, we return to the depositors to seek their permission for release of material. We need to know full details of the client’s project in order to best inform the depositor in order to gain their permission. Most depositors are happy to have their material seen and reused, and they are excited and eager to see it in exhibitions, broadcasts, and other projects. However, it is also at the depositor’s discretion to restrict the material for cultural or ethical reasons, and we have responsibilities to honour and uphold these wishes. We will not abuse this trust, nor risk our relationship with them – for without their film, we would not have a collection. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision also incorporates the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi into our policies and practices, and will return to iwi, hapu or whanau with a connection to the material via our Taha Māori division. Further, we have many titles that we have purchased from overseas archives, who retain the ownership and administration of these titles. We have purchased a number of titles from the Imperial War Museum in Britain, and British Pathé, with special re-use conditions – sometimes we need to refer clients back to these entities for clearance for their specific license requirements.

Amongst all of this, we also faced technical and preservation challenges. Digitisation of paper-based archives is one thing, digitisation of film makes for large file sizes, which can pose problems in delivering large files across the world, it is not as simple as an attachment in an email!

Finally, we take our responsibilities as an archive seriously and as members of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), we have a code of ethics that we are bound to. We remain caretakers or kaitiaki of the collection and we “[r]ecognise that [our] primary commitment is to preserve the materials in [our] care and – provided always that such activity will not compromise this commitment – to make them permanently available for research, study and public screening” (FIAF website).

– By the Partnership department, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision