(R-L: Niamh O’Donnell, Elisa Mutsaers, Jim Wraith, Fatma Amer & Nicholas Avedisian-Cohen)
Elisa Mutsaers became interested in the preservation & presentation field when she worked as a researcher for documentaries and got inspired by Giuseppe Pantieri, who owns a large private film museum in Rome. She graduated from Preservation & Presentation of the Moving Images in 2004 and now runs Film Atelier in The Hague. We asked her about her experiences with the program.
How did you experience P&P?
I was in the first year of the course so many things still had to be figured out I guess, in particular the balance and connection between practice and theory. I enjoyed the classes at the Institute of Sound and Vision and at EYE, but they were not really interconnected yet with the theory at university. What I liked most was our participation at a conference in Italy about Multiple Language Versions (MLV’s), it was really an eye-opener, never heard of MLV’s before, very interesting and it became subject of my P&P thesis, which I enjoyed researching and writing very much. It actually also became subject of the thesis I wrote two years later at the Selznick School at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, United States.
What did you do after the course?
Learning a lot more about film preservation at the Selznick School. P&P for me was a nice introduction to the subject, but in Rochester it felt like I really learned a profession, it was such a great combination of learning skills and practice, combined with relevant theory and a lot of attention for film history. Those ten months in Rochester felt like heaven. Next to that, I continued my freelance work as a researcher. I started doing that in 2001, after finishing a MA in London called ‘research for documentaries’ and during the P&P course I also continued working on research projects and other freelance jobs.
What is your job now?
I run my own Film Atelier Den Haag where I combine film & history in different manners: film preservation, lectures and workshops about film preservation, film history, history of cinema’s in The Hague (the subject of the thesis I wrote in 1996 for my history study at the University of Leiden), workshops for children called ‘What is film?’. I combine these film related things with other things that I like under the name ‘Regelneefje’: I work for a art dealer, rent my Filmatelier for meetings, sometimes do research for documentaries and websites, sometimes do organizational jobs for cultural institutions, sometime do editorial work, et cetera. I basically do everything I like.
Which skills/theories/other things that you’ve learned during P&P do you still use in your current job?
To be honest, actually none I think. It was already my third university study. I already learned skills like planning and researching during my studies in Leiden and London. During the course we touched a role of film only at one practical class at the Filmmuseum. Most of the theoretical classes that were given in my opinion had hardly any connection to the practice of working at e.g. Sound & Vision or Eye. But nevertheless it was valuable for me doing the course, it made clear to me that I really wanted to learn the profession of a film preservationist and that I wanted to learn more about film history. I also loved having the opportunity to write my thesis, with very good help from Julia Noordegraaf, who was the coordinator of the course at that time. Furthermore, because of the course it also became very clear to me that I would never like to work at a large institution like Sound & Vision, Eye or the University of Amsterdam. I really appreciated the opportunity the course gave me to do my internship at the Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Geschiedenis. Up to today I still work for them.
How would you describe the position of Film Atelier Den Haag in the field of archives and AV-institutes?
My Filmatelier of course is of a totally different order than any AV-institute, but I think I do have quite a lot of knowledge and skills that proved to be of interest to some museums and archives that do have a film collection, next to other collections, but lack the knowledge, skills and appliances to preserve their films.
You combine preservation, research and education in your work practice. How are these aspects intertwined?
When I do research for documentaries it helps a lot to know how archives work and to understand how they keep their films and other carriers. With the preservation, it really helps to do that also with the eye of a researcher, concerning the content e.g., making descriptions, deciding which films to keep and so forth. And I really like to give lectures to adults and workshops to children (and sometimes adults) about the importance of film preservation, to tell and show them about my work.
What would you advise to people who’d like to start a company like Film Atelier Den Haag?
If you want to make a living out of it I don’t think it will be enough to focus on the preservation of films alone, so there should be more that somehow is related to that, at least in your own eyes. And next to that the general things that count for everybody who runs his or her own business: you need a lot of discipline and flexibility, organizational skills, a lot of patience, a lot of ideas, a lot of creativity, a lot of resilience, a lot of accuracy, be able to work with clients (listen to them, put their interests first) you must enjoy working on your own and be prepared to work a lot more hours a week than most people with general jobs. And for everyone who would like to start his or her own business, start carefully, work on your ideas e.g. one day a week, combined with evenings and weekends, and have a paid job for the other days of the week. Start with voluntary jobs and keep busy. When things start to work out, you can consider cutting on the other job, till the day you can decide to focus on your own company completely. And, also important, make sure you have a good and reliable bookkeeper.
Interview by Susan Warmenhoven