Film Archivist

  • Film Archivist

In over a century of filmmaking, there have been thousands upon thousands of scenes put to film. To preserve this long and rich cinematic history, film archivists are on the job. A lot like a movie librarian, a film archivist makes sure that films are preserved for future generations to enjoy or, in the case of bad films, to wonder what the filmmaker and audiences of the time were thinking. 


The main duties of a film archivist are simple: to organize and preserve an archive of collected films. The archive is often not film alone, but a collection of film reels, videotapes, DVDs, CDs, and other forms of digitally transferred films; an archive can also include items such as scripts, production schedules, still pictures, and any other movie-related media. The film archivist arranges and collates the collection that makes it an easy-to-use reference source for film historians, writers, or students. Film archivists spend a great deal of time cataloging materials as they come in, digitizing fragile materials, and researching new information and materials, as well as assisting those that wish to access the archive. In addition to possessing organizational and research skills, film archivists must be good communicators, as they will spend a great deal of time directing people through the resources and searching for new items to include.

Skills & Education

The nature of the work a film archivist performs is similar to that of a librarian, and as such requires many of the same skills and education. Undergraduate degrees in history, English, or humanities are commonly held by film archivists, followed by graduate degrees in archiving, library science, or similar areas of study. Not only history, but also preservation techniques are vital to the toolbox of a film archivist, as many old films (and related memorabilia such as scripts) are literally crumbling from age. Obviously, film archivists need to be extremely well-organized and have a passion for making sure everything is in its right place. As digitizing has become extremely important to film preservation, a good archivist must be familiar with those programs and processes, as well as comfortable with document storage cabinets and filing systems, microfilm scanners, video technology, and database or file-management systems.

What to Expect

Film archivists are the librarians of the cinematic world, and should expect their career to have many of the same attributes. Unlike many jobs in the film world, the hours and work environment are stable; you can expect a 9-to-5 lifestyle. The nature of the archive can vary greatly in size and scope, and film archivists can work for large film studios, universities, or private individuals and foundations. While film archivists may romanticize about unearthing that lost gem of the cinematic past, the reality is much closer to hours upon hours in front of a computer screen researching, days spent cataloging mundane clips, assisting people with their reference searches, and reshelving. However, a passion for sharing those rare gems with others, and saving them from the scrap heap of history, will enliven what others may see as a dull job.


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