Scottish Screen Archive

Hillington Industrial Estate is not generally a very exciting place – but it has some surprising tenants. The Scottish Screen Archive has been located there for the past 9 years, and earlier today I had a fascinating tour of its premises with a group from Glasgow Women’s Library. A rather soulless building has been made attractive with colourful posters and displays of film related artefacts.

We were welcomed by Emily Munro, Learning and Outreach Officer, who gave us a brief introduction to the collection before taking us round the various departments to meet some of the 15 staff and find out what they do.

The collection was founded in 1976 and became part of the National Library of Scotland in 2007. It comprises mainly non fiction / social history material, though also includes anything funded by Creative Scotland. Films date from 1895 onwards and include both professional material (e.g. STV Archive – the BBC has its own – and all Gaelic TV broadcasts) and amateur films such as home movies.  The variety of formats is challenging as we saw later! The archive also holds paper records such as stills, press cuttings, scripts, ephemera and so on. Some SSA “shelfies”:

Next, we met staff from the acquisitions and metadata sections. Material is not usually purchased but donated, and they are very selective about what they accept in terms of subject matter and quality – only about 30%. Films are physically examined and repaired to be watched, assessed, and catalogued if accepted. Some material is referred on to more appropriate collections, e.g. BFI. Copyright and data protection must be carefully considered and agreements can change over time – the subjects of a home movie donated in the 1970s might not be happy to appear online, for example.

In the final part of the visit, Alan Russell, Preservation and Technical Manager, showed us the array of machines required to access and maintain the collection, many of which are irreplaceable.

Some of the less pleasant challenges in handling old film include vinegar syndrome, when the acetate breaks down, fungal growth on the gelatine, chalk separating out of videotape and, most alarmingly, the instability of nitrate film which can explode! (Unless you have some 35mm film from the 50s lying around you should be ok….)

Alan explained that digital restoration aims to make the film appear as it would have done when new, not upgrade it to modern standards or make amateur film look professional. It’s expensive and time-consuming to do, so tends to be restricted to unique items such as colour footage of the Queen Mary’s first voyage down the Clyde.

Find out more about the Archive and its holdings on its website (a new one is launching at the end of the month). Hillington is rather out-of-the-way and viewing facilities are very limited (see the Visiting us page for how to make an appointment) – but this will change in September next year when the Archive will move to the much more central Kelvin Hall alongside sports facilities and the stores of Glasgow Museums and Glasgow University’s Hunterian. This will provide event space, an exhibition area and drop-in access facilities as well as opportunities for cross-organisation co-operation. It sounds amazing!

Thanks to Emily, Alan and all the other staff for a brilliant visit. Before I finish, there is a link with another GWL trip I went on last week to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. After looking at the current exhibition we took a trip on their Creative Cargo canal barge. It was fitted up as a mini-cinema, in conjunction with SSA, and one of the films on offer was The Bowler and the Bunnet, a 1967 documentary narrated and directed by Sean Connery on industrial relations at Fairfields’s shipyard in Govan. It wasn’t as dry as it sounds! We didn’t have time to see it all, but I was fascinated by discussion of what were then  new-fangled management methods such as job-evaluation. There are a couple of clips on the SSA’s catalogue record if you want a flavour of it.

Never a dull moment with GWL!

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Anabel Marsh

I'm a proud Glaswegian who loves to go gallivanting both at home and abroad. Join me in my travels, both historic and current. Credit where credit's due: photography mostly by my more talented other half, John.

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