Class: MIAS 220 Archaeology of the Media
Understanding the history of moving image technology plays an important role in a moving image archivist’s training. Archaeology of the Media does just this for students in the MIAS program. Students in the class come to understand how the use of specific technologies influences the aesthetics of a moving image. The texts read for the course do an excellent job of outlining the evolution of moving image technology, but only in the US and Europe. Though these are the regions where the technology was invented, they by no means represent the sole context in which they have been used. Throughout the course, I became curious about how moving image technology functioned in other regions.
My final project for the course attempted to trace the roots of the Nigerian videofilm [sic] industry, also known as “Nollywood.” Though little known in the west, Nigeria is second only to India in annual film production. However, none of these films or “videofilms,” as they are known, are shot on celluloid. Furthermore, the industry seemed to emerge spontaneously in the early 1990s. By examining the history of moving image technology alongside the political history of Nigeria, it becomes clear why moving images did not become a major part of Nigerian culture until so much later than in other parts of the world. Rather than stop with the emergence of Nollywood, I went further in my research to find out how digital technologies were making their way into Nigerian moving images, as well as researching the state of moving image preservation in the country. As part of my research, I contacted Nigeria’s National Film Video and Sound Archive (NFVSA), a FIAF member, to enquire about their preservation practices and the state of the archive, but did not hear back before the paper’s deadline. However, the chief archivist, Esther Jemila Chukwuma, eventually sent me a document describing the archive’s current practices. According to the document, the NFVSA is much better off than many archives in developing countries; it has a new climate controlled facility and has adopted a cataloging standard to describe its collection. Furthermore, the archive co-sponsored a conference on preserving Nigeria’s moving images during a local film festival.
Very few academic papers have captured my attention the way this one did. The paper presented here represents only part of the research that went into it and only a few of the unique intersections between technology and politics found in Nigeria. I returned to this subject for my final paper in a subsequent course, IS 291 Global New Media. Researching moving image preservation in Nigeria first opened the door for me to thinking about preservation in the developing world. In class we often learn about best practices for regions with access to robust infrastructure, such as regular electricity. However, I have been become fascinated with the question of how one handles preservation when one cannot assume that the power will always be on or that the proper equipment will be available. There is a direct connection between the interest that sparked with this paper and the forthcoming paper I will be presenting at the SEAPAVAA Conference at the end of May.
Photo Caption: A market stall in Nigeria selling Nollywood DVDs.