The opening of a new archive at Maynooth University will safeguard thousands of hours of film documenting Ireland's past from potential decay and allow the Irish Film Institute (IFI) to open its doors to more amateur collections.
The new moving image preservation facility at the university is the largest facility of its kind in Ireland and triples the IFI’s storage capacity.
"The new space means we can preserve more of our collective heritage," the IFI's head of film archive Kasandra O'Connell said.
"In recent times we simply haven't had the space to properly store all of the potential material out there. I have been in the IFI for 18 years and it was nearly at full capacity when I started and we have been fundraising for a long time to get this space."
The new facility contains 120sq m of climate-controlled vault space. This will house part of the IFI’s collection of 30,000 cans of film dating from 1897. Films from directors including John Huston, Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan and Lenny Abrahamson will be stored alongside a large number of amateur films.
Among the films in the IFI archive is footage shot in 1939 on the Aran Islands by painter Sean Keating.
“You can see what a fantastic eye he had. Not only are these a great record of the islands in the 1930s, they are beautiful images,” Ms O’Connell said. “They are the earliest colour moving images we have of the Aran Islands and some of the earliest colour films we have at all, and it is particularly unusual for an amateur film maker.”
She said Ireland “did not have a proper archiving system for a long time because we didn’t have a huge indigenous film production industry so it wasn’t high on the agenda.
She said the reason amateur film is so important is because it is sometimes the only record we have of how Ireland was.
“From the 1890s until the 1960s, all there really was in Ireland was amateur footage and the fact that we can start taking material in again is great news.”
To ensure optimum storage conditions, the temperature in the vault will be lowered to 4 degrees while the relative humidity will be maintained at 35 per cent. The research and preservation space will contain viewing and winder facilities for all film formats including 8millimetres, Super 8mm, 16mm, 35mm film, and will contain 16mm and 35mm Steenbeck flatbed editing tables.
Maynooth University and the IFI have also initiated a new academic partnership that uses the archive as a teaching and research resource.
Students in the university’s Master’s in Critical and Creative Media course can take a module in Media Archives that will be co-taught by Ms O’Connell and Maynooth’s Dr Denis Condon and Prof Maria Pramaggiore.