Isles film archive moves step closer as ideas flow

An archive of Shetland’s moving images could soon be accessible across the isles with the creation of the Shetland Moving Image Project (SMIP).

SMIP co-ordinators Joanne Jamieson and Karen Emslie hope the project will see Shetland’s film and moving images collected, restored where necessary, preserved and digitised to be enjoyed by the public.

Over the past two years Mrs Jamieson and Ms Emslie, in con­junction with the Shetland Amenity Trust, have been researching the idea and assessing the amount of film that exists in Shetland.

A public meeting was held in the museum and archives in July to gauge support for the idea and discuss ideas surrounding how the project might go ahead.

Speakers included archivist Brian Smith, who explained that while written and audio media had been collected for some time, moving image material had not, partly due to the complicated pro­cess involved: old film is often extremely delicate and easy to damage and restoration work time consuming and expensive.

Mrs Jamieson and Ms Emslie explained that they were in close communication with the Scottish Screen Archive (SSA), which has advised the project and has generously offered to co-operate in the storage of original films.

The SSA currently holds thous­ands of films and after a public appeal in the 1970s is still constantly being donated film in various forms. Many of these, due to the sheer scale of film contributed, will not be catalogued – and therefore not seen – for many years.

Having a separate Shetland archive, important due to both the unique culture and geography of Shetland, could therefore mean Shet­land film from the SSA collection could be prioritised and used.

The public meeting also included a discussion with the audience about how the archive could work, and specifically issues surrounding methods of storage, copyright, how donated film would be used and from an ethical and historical point of view, the extent to which a clip should be restored.

After receiving a grant of £8,600 form the Heritage Lottery Fund Awards for All programme in Decem­ber 2008, a feasibility study and project plan were then written up and submitted to the amenity trust. These were approved and received enthusiastic support at the trust’s meeting of the 14th October.

The study included research into the type of film likely to be contributed, which has been broken down into three categories: amateur, which would include home movies; film already archived or held by a museum or other body; and semi-professional and professional film, including that held by film pro­duction and broadcasting com­panies. The focus of the SMIP so far has been on the amateur category.

The team are now looking at funding bids and researching the technology behind restoration and digitising film.

Originally they had been looking into the idea of gaining premises to house the archive, but due to finan­cial restraints are now considering creating an online archive that could be accessed anywhere in the world, which would also allow people to comment on the images and contribute information.

Digitising the material would also save space and money and allow greater accessibility.

Ms Emslie said: “One of the most innovative elements of this idea is that cataloguing could also be carried out online by people in any site in the world. People would be able to add information about the content of the films.

“One of our key findings is that existing film must be urgently collected and preserved and that the stories behind the films recorded as soon as possible.”

They would however like there to be public “access points” to be housed in existing locations across the isles, which would serve as the face of the SMIP and allow greater access. These could possibly be run in conjunction with local history groups and would also support tourism in local areas.

The access points would be staffed, and Mrs Jamieson is currently looking into the possibility of attaining funding for training people to work with the technology. Having local people working on the archive in each area would be massively beneficial.

Mrs Jamieson said: “You want to be able to see the film but it’s incredibly important to know what it’s about; the story behind what you’re seeing is the really inspiring and exciting thing. I can’t wait to be able to go to Burra and show films and have people tell me who the people are and what’s happening.”

Premises for cleaning and restoring the film would still be required, but could be smaller.

There are numerous ways in which a film archive could be used, however six main user areas have been identified. These are heritage, community, education, for creative and artistic purposes, tourism and commercially in, for example, promotional material.

Ms Emslie is currently research­ing the technological side of the project. She said: “This proposal would have many practical, social, educational and economic benefits but is technically complex and we are now working on how to achieve this.”

Mrs Jamieson said they were encouraged by the support they’ve received so far: “We’re really excited and overwhelmed by the response from the public which has been really encouraging and inspiring.”

The team would still encourage any feedback for the project and would like to hear from anyone with ideas or information, especially about the technical aspects of storage and cataloguing. For more information, go to

SMIP can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter, or alter­native­ly Joanne and Karen can be contacted by email, through or by calling the Shetland Amenity Trust on (01595) 694688.


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