Turning Collective Wisdom Into Strength – An Interview with Andrea Kalas of the Association of Moving Image Archivists

Fourth in a series of in-depth interviews with innovators and leaders in the fields of Risk, Compliance and Information Governance across the globe.

Andrea KalasAndrea Kalas is a recent President of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Prior to her current role at Paramount Pictures as SVP of Archives, she led the preservation program at the British Film Institute. I had the opportunity to sit down with her in June to discuss bit loss, digital asset management, artificial intelligence and the benefits that millennials are bringing to the profession.

Andrea, you’ve spoken and taught at length about the challenges of bit loss and how it affects the race to preserve not just America’s rich film history, but that of other countries and cultures. How does a global team like yours even begin to prioritize its preservation goals as you race against the clock?

Digital preservation has the basic goal of avoiding bit loss, technically. However, the work that really requires technologists and archivists to effectively collaborate involves the treatment of files as valuable records, art or artifacts. This goes against so much of how basic information technology systems work. For example the word “archive” has been used as a term to mean data written off-line and put on removable media on a shelf, never to be touched again. This is a sure path to bit loss. For an archivist this definition is completely counter-productive. It as much about communication and clear technical requirements from archivists as it is building technical solutions. What we’ve developed is an infrastructure that makes sure there are multiple copies of our feature films, and that each file that makes up that film is checked annually. We’ve also worked hard at making sure that we’ve architected things so that as hardware and software change, which they inevitably to, the files and metadata that make up that film can survive. This keeps us on track with what we have to preserve. That and the incredibly brilliant archivists who work with me and bring innovation to the process as it evolves.

Aside from the importance of preserving history and the arts, what are the other benefits of preservation for large intellectual property firms like those in the Entertainment industry?

Entertainment companies who base their business plans on the ability to distribute films and television programs over the long term benefit from the preservation of their intellectual property both financially and culturally. The cultural aspect is often called in business terms, “branding,” or the public recognition of the value of that company. A film studio who demonstrates it cares as much about a film that has great public and cultural appreciation as it has financial benefit enhances its brand. These two reasons are why those who own intellectual property have a duty of care. Like many distributors, we have some titles we distribute for a short period of time, and other for which we have long-term rights. It is the latter we preserve.

Some argue that AI was kickstarted by image repository work thanks to the efforts of academics like Fei-Fei Li at Stanford. Companies like Zorroa, for example, are now developing tools for visual asset management that integrate machine learning algorithms so users can auto-classify assets. This must be promising considering the volume of materials we must now manage. Are projects like this on the horizon for other studios or is it still cost prohibitive?

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