Film preservationists Mick Newnham and David Walsh, who held a two-day Film Preservation in Practise workshop in Mumbai, said that given its cultural diversity, area and high film output, it could be a better idea to have regional film archives in India in addition to a central body like National Film Archive of India (NFAI). Mick, who worked as chief conservator with National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, and Walsh, who worked with Imperial War Museum, London, have an experience in the field of film preservation of over three decades. The workshop, which was held on March 9 and 10, was organised by the Film Heritage Foundation helmed by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur in association with International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), Paris, and the Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai.
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, where 14 participants were imparted introductory training on film preservation practices, Walsh and Newnham said the situation in India was a valid case for film archiving to be done on a regional basis. “For a country like India which has an amazing cultural diversity, perhaps film archiving should be done more on a regional basis. That might be a model that’s more successful for a country like India. For countries with much more homogenised culture, a centralised archive is more suitable. A few years ago, I visited Chennai where one of the first things that I noticed was that although it’s a huge film industry producing films since 1914-1916, only a small number of Tamil films are present at National Film Archive of India. There could be any number of reasons for this,” said Newnham.
“If there existed an archival facility at a regional level, this situation could have been better. However, still there’s a need of a national overview, because in local governments, people think more about health, roads, infrastructure, education which are more pressing concerns for a local government. A suitable model would be that the funding and the overview should come from a centralised body, while the actual management has to happen locally,” he said.
Walsh said that in case of multiple archives, it is a must to have clearly demarcated jurisdiction to avoid a conflict and rivalry. “I can see that there’s an argument for having an archive for each reason. There are lots of countries in the worlds where they are different archives for different region and sometimes different archives for the same region. And it’s also common for them to have a conflict, if the jurisdiction is not defined clearly. Given the Indian landscape and the India’s film heritage being diverse and specific to different region, there are many advantages of having a national archive,” said Walsh. He said that having private organisations like Film Heritage Foundation comes with advantage of having flexibility and dynamism in the processes as they are not bound by governmental rules and protocols.
“Film Heritage Foundation is in a fortunate position since they are not bound by decisions of a government which may be driven by factors that may not be in best interest of film heritage conservation. Such private bodies can be more active and dynamic. They are also fortunate that they are also not dealing with the tsunami of films that is decomposing at a fast rate like at NFAI where they have inherited a major amount of the stuff with all the problems that come with it. They are kind of in a position where failure is almost certain because unless the government gives them the kind of funds that’s needed to conserve such vast heritage, which will be huge amount of money,” said Walsh.
Both the experts opined that the NFAI should make the most of the opportunity afforded by National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM), a 597 crore project launched by Information and Broadcasting Ministry, as such projects happen only once in a while. “The thing is that you would never get to do this kind of project of this scale twice. Rarely, a government would say ‘Let’s do another project for the things that we missed! It may happen in 20 years’ time, but not immediately. It’s not going to be repeated in a reasonable time frame,” said Newnham.