Be Kind Rewind: Setting Up A Film Rewind at La MaMa

       This Spring I have been interning at the La MaMa Archives while I complete my first year in NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program. When I first met Rachel, we discussed a few potential projects for the semester. One idea involved La MaMa’s collection of 16mm film, which had been catalogued by previous intern Genevieve Havemeyer-King. Unfortunately, the films couldn’t be inspected thoroughly at that time because La MaMa didn’t have a film rewind. But the archives needs a better record of the content of the films, how the images look, and which films should be prioritized for more long-term preservation. I thought the project sounded perfect for me.

        Very early on, Rachel warned me that working in community archives comes with its own special set of challenges. Unsurprisingly, funding is at the top of that list, and with La MaMa’s limited resources, I was tasked to get a rewind set up at virtually no cost to the archive. There are many little things that go into properly inspecting film. Ideally, I would need lint-free gloves, cloths to remove dust, isopropyl alcohol for cleaning, a spring clamp to keep the reel secure on the shaft, a light box to illuminate the film, and a loupe to magnify it. Most of these are inexpensive items, which we purchased from online retailers. And I found that I could just use my iPad as a light box. But we still needed the most important film-inspection equipment: the film rewind bench. Kelly Haydon, a Preservationist at Bay Area Video Coalition, had donated a pair of rewinds to La MaMa Archives last year. Rachel and I planned to make our own bench by screwing these rewinds into a wood plank, then clamping it to a table. But when I got a look at the set, it was clear they weren’t ready – they were missing handles and shafts (Shafts are the rods that the film reel slides onto for viewing).

IMG_2174

The donated pair of rewinds

        So I began my search for the missing parts. The rewinds we had were produced by the Hollywood Film Company, which is still in business, but multiple requests for a quote on spare parts were never returned. I spent a lot of time browsing eBay, but when you have no money, sometimes the best option is to ask your friends for help. I don’t yet know that many people in the archiving community, but an email sent out to the AMIA Listserv garnered several kind responses. One man actually sent us a pair of shafts free of cost (Thanks Danny Kuchuck!). I am quickly learning the benefit of having a community of archivists to turn to.

        As I worked on this project, I also spent time on other tasks in the archives, but after several weeks, I still hadn’t had any luck acquiring the right kind of handles for the rewind. It was admittedly turning into a frustrating situation. I took a week off to go on a class trip to the Library of Congress’s Audiovisual Conservation Center, and everywhere I looked I saw perfectly good film rewinds. I must have seen fifty of them, each one taunting me, reminding me that I didn’t even have one to work with. Then I got an email from Rachel:

“OK you’ll never believe what just happened- i found a pair of handles for the rewinds. apparently Kelly DID give me handles when she gave me the rewinds. and, er, she also gave me (wait for it): SHAFTS. i found all the hardware hidden in a secret location i had forgotten about.

ACK! so this is exciting and also annoying. sorry! and hooray!?”

        I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, but I ended up laughing. I wish that I could have been there to see her reaction when she realized we had the missing parts.

        As soon as I got back to La MaMa, Rachel and I got to work. The two pieces of the rewind needed to be secured to a flat surface, roughly two feet apart, so Rachel and I went down to the basement, found four screws, and drilled the rewinds into a plank of wood. We brought it back up to our office and clamped the board to a table using a pair of C-clamps. This has become my workspace.

IMG_2358

Our imperfect, but functioning rewind bench

After a month of ups and downs simply trying to set up a rewind, I can’t believe how quickly everything came together when I returned from my trip. I couldn’t be upset that we had the parts the whole time, because that time turned into a valuable learning experience. My first internship could have gone a variety of ways, and I feel so grateful to be in a place where my ideas and opinions are welcome, and where the work I do will actually matter. The final result of our rewind isn’t perfect, but it will do the job, and I couldn’t be happier. 

Now let’s look at some film.

– Caroline Roll

IMG_2368

It works!

List of the items we acquired for the film rewind bench:

Rewinds – Donated ($0)

Shafts – Donated ($0)

Handles – Donated ($0)

Spring Clamp – eBay ($25)

Wood – Found at La MaMa ($0)

Clamps – Found at La MaMa ($0)

Microfiber cloth – B&H, purchased used ($3)

Lint-free gloves – B&H ($5)

Loupe, B&H ($5)

Split reel – found in La MaMa archives ($0)

iPad – used my own ($0)

Total Cost: $38