Special WDAVH Article: A DECADE ON...
The UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is now such a fixture in our calendar that it is hard to imagine our profession without it. It is a platform that audiovisual archives needed, and we have made good use of it.
Back in 2006 I was engaged by UNESCO to undertake a feasibility study on the concept, to check whether it really was a workable idea. There had been a proposal for a World Day for Archives (including audiovisual archives) but UNESCO had settled specifically on an annual day for audiovisual archives. Why? It was recognized that audiovisual documents were fragile and in danger all around the world, and a clear focus on them was need to raise public awareness. A UNESCO day for archives generally would be a worthy idea, of course, but the specific needs of the audiovisual media would tend to get lost inside a more general message.
The feasibility study, which was based on questionnaires distributed around the world, made it abundantly clear that the concept would be welcomed and supported, and a plethora of ideas and possibilities for the day were suggested. And so it has proved.
Of the innumerable events that the World Day has inspired over ten years, I confess to a personal favourite. In October 2011 there were serious floods in Bangkok, and the rising waters threatened to seep into the storage vaults at Thailand's National Film Archive. The vault building was sandbagged to keep the water at bay, and staff members stayed up all night to maintain a vigil until the water receded. But here's the thing: they were all wearing "World Day for AV Heritage" T-shirts, as was clearly apparent in the television news coverage of their vigil. What might have been a night watch by some quiet sentinels became a brilliant publicity coup, and sent a message to a huge television audience.
People keep asking, of course, about the date. Why the 27th of October? This was the moment in 1980 when the UNESCO General Conference adopted its Recommendation for the safeguarding and preservation of moving images, declaring in an international normative instrument for the first time that films and television programmes were worth preserving in archives! It was a watershed moment, and so far have we moved on in the years since then that it surprises us that anyone should doubt what seems such a self-evident truth. It was, alas, not always self-evident to many people.
And we have much further to travel, for many existing analogue collections are now threatened by technological change, and we are not adequately coping with the exponential expansion of born-digital production. Our message is now more compelling than ever.
By: Ray Edmondson
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