From 1890s trick films to 1990’s rave footage, KinoLibrary represents captivatingly rare archive footage from all over the world. With an MA in Film Studies under her belt, an impressive reputation within the archiving industry, Jenny Coan set up KinoLibrary alongside business partner Serena Sharp, and together they work to produce and curate the films that might otherwise be lost. Here is how they keep the past alive:
Why did you decide to branch out on your own in the archiving world?
There is so much amazing archive footage in private collections that is often never seen by people beyond the owners or archive librarians that look after them. We thought it would be an exciting challenge to bring together all of this interesting material and make it easy for documentary makers, film makers, advertising agencies etc to use in their projects. That, and being obsessed with archives ever since watching Poliakoff’s ‘Shooting The Past’.
How did KinoLibrary begin?
My business partner Serena and I used to run a film library together for several years. We loved working together and had a shared passion for historical footage as well as the more off-the-wall vintage films. We had a vision of the perfect archive film library, so one day decided to go for it. We started building up a collection of films, many of which have never been commercially available until now. It hasn’t been a simple process tracking down collections, as some of the film owners don’t even have an email address! However, these are often the film collections worth persevering, and in doing so we’ve managed to unearth some exceptional content.
What’s a typical day in the office?
The great thing about what we do is the variety of the requests we get in. One day we might be asked for 1920s Parisian cafes so we’ll go through our database and email over relevant sequences from all our films showing this. The next day we may get a request for something more conceptual like ‘Jealousy’: we’ll put together a compilation of everything showing this from a B-movie monster with glowing green eyes to a slapstick scene, or a clip from a 50s instructional film about controlling your emotions.
We’re also constantly on the lookout for collections or films to have on our books. Again this can be really varied as one minute we’ll be talking to a street artist about graffiti and skateboarding films, and the next to someone in their 90s who shot 16mm colour home movie footage of his travels round the world in the 1950s.
We also write a blog about archive news and events and post a cool clip we’ve discovered on our facebook page or tweet about a project we’re working on.
We also need to catalogue and shotlist (describe with keywords) new content coming in. Some of the films come to us still on reel so we’ll also be sorting through and digitising reels including 16mm and super 8.
How does the production process work?
We receive the brief from the client who is looking for archive for their tv programme, ad campaign, exhibition etc. We then research our collections and films for free and produce a bespoke archive compilation of everything suitable for that project. This is emailed to the client who then chooses which clips they would like to licence from us. Our lab then transfers clean, high resolution clips from our masters which is then delivered to the client ready for use.
What’s the most exciting project you have worked on?
We’ve worked on quite a few great projects. We’ve done work with the National Theatre live projects including The Curious Incident of Dog In the Night and The Magistrate. We worked on Perverts Guide To Cinema which was a really fun project to be part of.
We’re currently working on an amazing feature-doc due for cinema release in 2015. Can’t really say too much about it as it is still in production, but looks to be one of the most seminal documentary films about 1960s London.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re working on several jobs at the moment but I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say as they’re still all in production… Mainly documentaries for independent production companies, as well as the BBC. We’re also working on a couple of adverts. We’ve just finished a really fun project about aliens where we licensed some hilarious B-Movie footage for a programme being broadcast worldwide.
Why do you think film archiving is important?
We always have felt that archive film is the nearest we can get to time travel! There’s something incredibly accessible about moving images and they are so valuable historically as one-off slices of life that cannot be replicated. Whilst there is an element of subjectivity to historical footage, the medium enables viewers to make their own opinions about what is in front of them. Using archive helps tell a story and brings the past to life and it is essential that these vibrant historical documents are kept for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
Is there a specific art to archiving?
Having worked in the industry for several years we know what sort of content has sustained popularity. Generally though we look for quality, rarity and historical interest. We also have our own little strange things that we personally gravitate towards. Serena loves underwater shots of people swimming and surfing. I love anything a bit surreal and also dancing crazes.
Do you think people have misconceptions about the archiving world?
Quite a lot of people think that if content isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. With rapidly changing technologies it can be difficult for some collections who don’t have the funds or workforce to digitise content. As you can imagine, there is a huge amount of off-line content dating back from the late 1800s, and KinoLibrary are passionate about making this easy to access. The footage is historical but as a fresh, modern company it’s really important to us that we deliver content efficiently. We want the balance of being a rich creative resource, but as entrepreneurs we understand the business needs of our clients too.
What’s in store for Kino Library in the near future?
It’s been a lot of work to build something from scratch but we’re both incredibly proud of the collection. We’re getting in new film collections all the time so the future for us is looking quite bright! I think once more people are aware that we exist and see what we can offer, we hope that the company will grow. We hope that creative people looking for archive might prefer to come to us rather than a large corporation selling clips. We love what we do for a living and can’t wait to share what we’ve found.
Finally, any tips for aspiring archivers?
There are a variety of MA archiving courses you can enroll in. I didn’t do a Masters in archiving but I know that quite a few people who now work for the BFI did this course. Somewhere like the BFI would be a great place to start and I’m sure could offer advice. I think it’s so hard at the moment for young people to get their foot in the door of any decent job. I think that perseverance goes a long way, as does enthusiasm. I also think it is important to be open to do any task. There’s lots of fun and interesting elements to the job, but also painstaking and laborious jobs as well. It’s important that you are ready to do whatever is needed and that way you make yourself a valuable part of the team.