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AMIA President Dennis Doros on the Role of Media Preservation in a Changing Landscape

Dennis Doros

Dennis Doros, co-owner of Milestone Films, was elected president of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) in October of 2017. We asked him to sit down with HPA for a Q&A about the organization and its role in our community.

1. AMIA sits at the cross section of a number of critical activities in media. As in every part of the content lifecycle, things are changing. What do you see as the role of AMIA in this dynamic landscape?

AMIA’s strength is the diversity of roles our members play in the field of moving image preservation. Unlike other associations that defined who could join — and who could not — from its inception, AMIA welcomed everyone interested in the preservation of the moving image. As a result, our members include professionals working at for-profit and nonprofit archives, movie studios, distribution companies, educational institutions, labs, libraries, storage facilities, computer programming firms, and film theatres. Bringing together this diversity of experience and expertise is critical to the ability to embrace new technologies and the continuing challenges of analog media.

Our members have expertise and are actively engaged in every aspect of the content lifecycle, from creation through preservation, restoration, and exhibition.

AMIA’s mandate has always been to foster friendship and collaboration between our members and in this we have succeeded tremendously. As a result, we are the primary post-education resource for moving image preservation and more importantly, we are the premiere think tank for our field. Through our conferences, events, journal, symposiums, and webinars, AMIA members not only come up with the solutions for today’s problems, but are the first to come up with tomorrow’s questions.

2. Can you help the reader understand the difference between restoration, preservation, DAM — and those buzzwords that muddle understanding of what AMIA may be all about?

To me, it is fairly simple. Preservation is the effort to ensure long-term access to original materials – to retard the disintegrating effects of light, temperature and environment in analog materials and to ensure the management and maintenance of authenticated digital content. Restoration involves bringing a moving image back to its original state when it was first seen, whether that moving image asset is analog or digital. Digital Assets Management is the combined effort to store digital materials and define them through metadata so they can be easily recalled now and in the future. Marketing tends to confuse the issues and I would love AMIA to be the leader in our field to educate the public.

3. How did you become involved with AMIA, and how did you come to the presidency?

I came into the film world completely by accident — the president of the film society at Ohio University had shown a trailer for Emmanuelle 3 to a family audience and the Dean of the arts department (Maya Lin’s father) quickly chose me to replace him. I had absolutely no experience in film. At that time, I was getting my major in television production of the arts and a minor in dance history. Over the next 38 years, I have built my career simply by saying yes and being open to challenges.

I got my start in film restoration by volunteering to put together Erich von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly while working at Kino International in the mid-1980s. The success of the film and resulting worldwide publicity established my reputation, but also made me a pariah to a number of the older archivists who resented not only the media coverage but my position working for a for-profit company. By the time I joined AMIA and attended my first annual conference in 1998, my wife Amy Heller and I had already run Milestone Films for eight years. At that first conference I learned that the world had completely changed — thanks entirely to the efforts of AMIA. I was delighted to learn that now I was accepted as a valued member of the community. The archives now wanted to work with us. I immediately found friendships that have lasted for more than two decades.

AMIA-Logo-17-350After attending as a member for several years, I decided that I needed to give back to this incredible organization. I started my AMIA volunteering modestly by helping to move chairs for a panel and doing anything the AMIA office needed, when I had some free time. When AMIA asked me to run for election to the Board of Directors, I said yes again, and I served three two-year terms. Here’s the funny part. After my third term, the AMIA Board gave me a retirement pen with my name on it. Then, two years ago, I was honored to receive the William S. O’Farrell Volunteer Award for significant contributions to AMIA and to the field. I truly believed that I had done my service and could sit back and let others have the pleasure of serving. So it took me by surprise when I was asked last year to run for president. I sat down with my wife (and Milestone partner) Amy, and our 22-year-old son Adam and discussed it.

The AMIA presidency is a big investment of time — often two to three hours a day — along with a fair amount of domestic and international travel. It came down to the question of how much I could contribute to AMIA’s progress. So, over the weekend, I wrote down the programs and ideas I would like to try to implement if I were elected. I have been very political in my life and in my work (among other things, Milestone is very proud of its inclusive catalog and our efforts in the indie film world to pay interns a decent wage) and I have seen recent world developments as a concern to my field. Furthermore, I wanted to create an atmosphere where members would spearhead the future of AMIA and where everybody has an equal stake in the organization. So I did run, I was fortunate to be elected, and to now be part of an active and hard-working board. I have stressed from day one that as president of AMIA, I work for the Board, and the Board works for the membership.

4. What do you see as the critical challenges that are facing the individuals and companies who are working with and managing content — both now and in the future? and, part B to this question in light of your global role: Is it the same globally or are different regions faced with different challenges?

Our challenges remain the same — the resources to properly preserve, restore, and exhibit our moving image heritage.

I think in recent years, we also realize that we are facing real challenges from the natural environment — including the floods in Bangkok that threatened the Thai film archive, the fires in the Bay Area of California that destroyed the Packard archive (and another that came far too close to the UCLA Film and Television Archives in Santa Clarita), and the earthquake last year that did terrible damage to the archives in Mexico. Milestone’s own video archive came under threat during Superstorm Sandy and we are very thankful to the incredible people at Iron Mountain who stayed through that terrible night and ensured that everybody’s material remained safe.

We have also witnessed the rise of intolerance that has destroyed archives and ancient monuments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. AMIA is a global organization with a thousand members from more thirty countries, and as caretakers of cultural heritage we see the threats all around the world. AMIA members are all faced with financial and political challenges that endanger our collections, but as an organization we must recognize and seek ways to help those threatened by with crises and limited resources and work to help them. We are in the midst of restructuring our Advocacy Committee so that it now reports directly to the Board, enabling AMIA to react faster to situations— whether they are at school in Detroit or a national archive in another part of the world. We are also looking to find ways to bring more international archivists to our conference and events so we can share experiences and ideas. AMIA’s participation as part of the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archive Associations (www.ccaaa.org), and the international Archives at Risk program, is an extension of our belief that audiovisual preservation is an international concern.

5. What are the most exciting technologies you see impacting your work and the work of AMIA members?

Our field has made incredible technological advances since I first entered it in 1981. Back then, no one could have predicted that most film restoration would be digitally accomplished, that you could have a Petabyte of digital storage on a bookshelf, and there would be schools around the world to teach the art of moving image preservation. But I am most excited about the advances in the building of sophisticated facilities to preserve our audiovisual heritage, such as the PHI Stoa and UCLA Film and Television Archive. Many of the new facilities built around the world in the past few years have featured ideas that have proven to be radically important additions to our knowledge.

6. What do you see as the job of the future in terms of archives/archivists?

I am continuously amazed at the abilities and interests of our members. I’ve always joked that an archivist is a librarian with a fedora and a whip, but I’m afraid that the Indiana Jones reference severely dates me! One thing that I think separates AMIA from other archivist organizations is our individualism and sense of rebellion. Quite a few AMIA members have gone out and started their own archives — saving thousands of moving images! I don’t know that you would find the same entrepreneurial and activist spirit anywhere else. I think that archives and archivists of the future will need to combine the roles of explorer, student, curator, scientist, gleaner, politician, and show people. The future of our AMIA archivists is activism and we will continue to fight the good fight.

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