Claudy Op den Kamp

Plymouth University, UK

The Greatest Films Never Seen: The Audiovisual Archive, Copyright Ownership and the Historical Narrative

The filmic evidence that film archives have collected, restored and provided access to over the course of the years has been informed by an ideal of inclusivity and a drive towards completism, yet consists of a rather small number of films. The presentation proceeds from the assumption that in practice film history is a practice of consensus - a co-production between academics, the archive and audiences - that conforms to widely held expectations about what film is and those expectations are based not only on what evidence is kept in the archives but more importantly how much of that evidence is accessible.

Copyright ownership can be seen as an important filter that shapes the availability of archival film and therefore colours our understanding of the larger narrative. Film history is co-constructed by not only the legal system, which as a guiding and filtering mechanism underpins the archival institution, but also by the archive itself as control of the evidentiary products helps shape the particular narratives that can be found there. What initially can seem like a local and an exclusively legal problem can be seen in a larger context as an ontological and an epistemological problem, in terms of the larger constraints to history. It therefore resonates beyond the specific demarcation of the film archive. And in turn, copyright ownership can be seen as a smokescreen for the very problem of history, the telling of which is necessarily a partial and provisional story told from the present.


Claudy Op den Kamp is a PhD candidate at Transtechnology Research at Plymouth University, UK, finalising a research project investigating the relationship between copyright ownership, the digitisation of archival film and the construction of film history. She is a graduate of the University of Amsterdam (Film and Television Studies) and holds a Masters in Film Archiving from the University of East Anglia. She has worked as Haghefilm Conservation's Account Manager in Amsterdam and prior to that as a Film Restoration Project Leader at the then Nederlands Filmmuseum.