Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) the project will run for four years (from August 2010 to July 2014). It aims to make a major contribution to the academic study of amateur media and to provide a significant legacy of amateur video that will be pro-actively sought out and preserved at the Scottish Screen Archive (SSA), part of the National Library of Scotland. As part of Scotland’s cultural heritage these films and the research will have both popular and academic interest.

Research context

1. Amateur media and the child.
Amateur, sponsored, non-commercial films and home movies are radically under-explored areas of moving image culture, although recent U.S. and U.K. academic activity in journals such as The Moving Image, Film History and work by scholars such as Patricia Zimmerman, Michelle Citron and James Moran indicate that there is potential for exciting developments in this field of study. High profile ‘re-public-ing’ of archive material and home movies has occurred in films and documentaries such as Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City and in the autobiographical essays Put the Camera on Me, Tarnation and I for India. The widespread fascination with these films demonstrates that the examination of the connections between amateur media, childhood and history could inspire significant public and academic interest. Television programmes which have employed archive film - such as Scotland on Film and The Films of Mitchell and Kenyon and more recently the Home Movie Road Show - have also proved popular. The development of new modes of dissemination for amateur media – via youtube, bebo and facebook – has led to a vastly increased visibility for this kind of material. By investigating the role and activity of children in amateur media, the project will have a unique conceptual focus, allowing the research team to explore an issue of central importance to amateur media: the construction of personal (private and domestic) and public (civic and community) histories. Working within a specific national and geographic context - Scotland - the project will benefit from a defined yet distinctively diverse social and cultural heritage in which amateur film-making has played a fundamental role, involving families, well established cine-clubs and numerous civic, educational and other sponsored community projects.
Children, as performers, as unwitting subjects and as makers and participants, have always played an essential part in amateur film and media. Previous academic work, such as Heather Norris Nicholson’s research based in the North West Film Archive has suggested ways in which the presence, activity and contingent evidence provided by children in amateur film can demonstrate many of the social and physical changes within children’s lives over the twentieth century. The project will also address the pre-history, or the origins of children’s activity – their appearance, making, creating and performing - in what is now characterised as a new ‘participatory culture’ of media convergence.

2. The ‘missing’ generation
The project’s sense of urgency is generated by the fact that there is a significant gap in the current holdings of the SSA which has a particular importance for the study of children and amateur film. At the present time, there are very few collections held in the archive of video material recorded during 1980-2000. Although this has been identified as a problem for the SSA since 2001, they have as yet been unable to source enough relevant material. This may be due to (at least) two reasons; owners of the material do not consider it as archival; or owners of the material do not believe the content to be of wider public or historical interest.
If the archive continues to rely on its conventionally passive process of acquisition the information recorded could be lost as the longevity of video formats fall far short of film. It is therefore imperative that this video material be located as soon as possible. It needs to be recorded and stored both for the purposes of this study and for the future. In specific relation to the research questions, the video material is potentially key evidence in the speculation as to whether there are identifiable changes in relation to the child’s participation in amateur media between 1980-2000 and whether it does serve as a ‘tipping point’ in relation to children’s activity as film-makers rather than simply as performers or subjects for adult movie makers.

Research Questions

1.    How are children and childhood represented and how have children themselves participated in amateur media and film-making in Scotland at specific periods in the twentieth century? What is distinctive about the formal practices of sub-genres within non-commercial film-making (e.g. amateur, fiction, non-fiction, sponsored and educational) which use and exhibit real children and which construct visions of ‘childhood’? What can these films reveal about the changing appearance and construction of childhood and the ethical and historical implications of the performance and activities of ‘real’ children?

2.    A key division in amateur film culture occurs after 1980 with the introduction of a number of different video technologies (cameras and formats) during which amateur film-making becomes cheaper, more accessible, portable and robust. Do these technological changes instigate perceptible differences in children’s participation in amateur film production after the introduction of video (1980-2000) in comparison with their activity within the previous years of popular amateur film-making (1927-1980)? How does this affect the way in which children are represented and childhood understood both within this media and in relation to the wider social context in which this media is produced and exhibited?

3.    What are the differences and problems in collecting, cataloguing and interpreting this amateur video material in comparison to earlier amateur films? What implications does this new material have for the integrity, future use and collecting strategies of ‘moving image’ archives?

Research Methods

1. History and interpretation
The first objective of the project is to explore the historical or evidential aspects of the films as they relate to the representation of the child as a material being, as a socially constructed subject and as an emotionally and politically significant ‘figure’. Thus the project will work from within a sociological/historical perspective. However, a distinctive aspect of the research is its adoption of a methodological perspective originating within film studies. The academic research team – Dr. Karen Lury and Dr. Ryan Shand - will examine and evaluate the explicit aspects of film form (such as narrative, editing, mise-en-scene, film conventions adapted and adopted) and inflect this understanding by a close attention to the less overt evidence also captured on film and video (performance, the relations of space and place and the ‘accidents of actuality’ – such as significant details of costume, accent and movement.) This approach will enable an understanding of the way in which the child is imagined and represented in these neglected media and how these media - as idiosyncratic and diverse cultural forms - have developed. Thus, while the films and contextual material will be positioned as historical artefacts they will also be subject to analysis driven by aesthetic interests.
Initially, Karen will examine and select from the range of non-commercial, sponsored non-fiction films featuring children already existing in the archive, funded by diverse agencies (such as the Scottish Education Department, the Department of Health and the Empire Exhibition), concentrating primarily on films produced in the post-war period. Ryan will build upon his existing work and focus on selected case studies of film groups (cine clubs, production companies) and individual non-professional directors who have used children in a range of fictional films generally made for exhibition at specialist festivals (such as the Frank Marshall collection and the films of Group 5). As the project progresses (from Spring/Summer 2011), the newer video material brought in will be examined and compared with the earlier films, focusing - in the first instance - on films produced by community groups and other semi-professional ‘sponsored’ film makers and production companies. Depending on what new material is found and archived, there may also be some opportunity to look at more domestic forms of media production which will also be contextualised in relation to similar film material available in the archive. This part of the project will specifically address the way in which this material provides a starting point and a useful historical context for contemporary children’s activity within the current conception of a ‘participatory culture’. Karen and Ryan will work closely with the project archivist seconded from the SSA – Kay Foubister -in the process of locating and contextualising the new video material. As a result of this collaboration there will also be the opportunity for ongoing reflection and reporting on the process and experience of building this new archive.

2. Extending the archive.
The search for new video material to be stored in the archive will be initiated and led by Kay, with a pilot planned to 'roll out' in Autumn 2010.

Initial guidelines for processing and acquisition:

•    Collections will be acquired to represent the following: equal spread of samples to be taken from both decades (1980s, 1990s). Collections will be from individuals and groups (clubs, workshops, non-commercial production companies).
•    Careful attention will be paid to geographic spread. The areas chosen will include: urban/rural environments; distinct regions within Scotland (mainland and islands); to reflect distinct economic and social demographics.

3. Reflecting on and monitoring the acquisition process.
The methods and practice used in locating, identifying and storing of the material will be an ongoing, self-reflective process involving the project team in association with the SSA. Presentation and evaluation of the process will be disseminated through internal working documents and, where appropriate, conference presentations involving the project team and the SSA. All material archived at the SSA will be protected by the SSA’s current practice in relation to copyright (for more details please see links to the SSA.)

The research team:
•    Prof. Karen Lury (Professor, Film and Television Studies, at the University of Glasgow) as Principal Investigator
•    Dr. Ryan Shand (based at the University of Glasgow) as Research Assistant
•    Ms. Kay Foubister (from the SSA) as the project archivist

In addition, the project will have specialist technical support and a designated cataloguer. The research team will also rely on the expertise and assistance of other specialist staff at the SSA, including the Education Officer, Ruth Washbrook.

The project is also supported by a steering committee:

  • Dr. Heather Norris Nicholson (North West film Archive/Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Professor Philip Schlesinger (Director of the Centre for Cultural Policy Research at the University of Glasgow)
  • Professor John Caughie (Director of the ArtsLab at the University of Glasgow)
  • Scott Donaldson (Head of Education at Scottish Screen)
  • Janet McBain (Manager of the Scottish Screen Archive)
  • Professor Mark Neumann (Expert in study of amateur media, based at the University of Northern Arizona, USA)

Other outcomes and public events:
The project has a number of planned outcomes, including academic publications and an international conference to be held at the University of Glasgow in 2014. The project is also committed to a range of activities and outputs designed to reach diverse audiences such as:
•    An archive screening to be held at GFT in Summer 2011.
•    Workshops involving children using material originating from the project will be led by SSA education officer, Ruth Washbrook. This workshops will be piloted at the Glasgow Youth Film Festival
•    Video material located by the project to be placed online and accessed via the educational learning network Scotland on Screen (SoS) as part of a specially developed ‘featured resource’
•    An exhibition,  provisionally titled, ‘Children and amateur media’ – a historical narrative tracing the involvement of children in amateur film - will employ archive material and feature an interactive display to be held at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh from Summer 2013.