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The sound of amateur cinema: collections, oral history, experimentation workshops

Speaker: Jean-Baptiste Masson (Université Rennes-2)
Chair: Claire Griffiths (Chester)

The Cinémathèque de Bretagne houses one of the biggest collections of amateur films in France. It also keeps more than 1500 tapes of sound recordings made by amateurs to provide soundtracks for their films. A number of films appear silent while corresponding soundtracks exist. But because image and sound were stored on two different media, and because the focus was on image, the sound recordings were not taken into account until now. This fact is not limited to the Cinémathèque de Bretagne, but exists in other film libraries in France and abroad. My fellowship aims to bring a new focus to the sound of amateur cinema.

This presentation discusses my fieldwork and aim to write a manual for the restoration of the sound of amateur cinema. First, it discusses the establishment of a method to navigate and classify the 1500+ tapes, while most of them have not been listened to and do not have any accompanying documentation, which means that their content is not clearly known. Secondly, it deals with oral history, participatory research, and experimentation workshops to reconstruct the experience, uses, and gestures of amateur filmmaking and screening with sound.  

Jean-Baptiste Masson recently completed his PhD while he was a fellow of the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities at the University of York. He worked on the historyof the sonic practices of amateur sound recordists in France and Britain. From September 2023, he is Marie Skłodowska-Curie/ Bienvenüe fellow based at the UniversitéRennes-2 and research fellow at the Cinémathèque de Bretagne, where he is working on establishing a manual for the restoration of the sound on amateur films.

The focus of the Behind-the-Scenes seminar series is an exploration of the processes we engage with on the journey towards producing the published research output, covering all the stages involved in fieldwork in geographical, virtual or un-sited fields. From the aspirations and expectations that precede fieldwork, through the messy and unpredictable circumstances of conducting the research, the scope of the series is wide and includes research design; funding; logistical preparations for engaging in fieldwork, dealing with unexpected challenges; the emotional impacts of the work, the multiple rewards of fieldwork collaborations, methods for analysing, cataloguing, and storing information during fieldwork, along with information retrieval from fieldwork. And in the aftermath of fieldwork, the series covers how we engage with the tortuous process of selecting what goes into the final polished output, which invariably includes excising valuable insights accumulated during fieldwork in the process. Behind-the-Scenes is a space where we can look at all those facets of fieldwork, including those which often remain unexplored and unspoken.
Seminar Sessions:
Wed 15 Nov 2023:
From border to border: volunteering, photo-voicing, listening, and here we go again!
Wed 6 Dec 2023:
Anxieties and Excitements of Archival Work: Some Considerations
Wed 31 Jan 2024:
Collaboration is a two-way road, or regarding ethnographic work with antagonistic institutions
Wed 13 Feb 2024: Postponed
Fieldwork with Indigenous Amazigh Communities
Fri 23 Feb 2024 (practical - hands on session):
Practical approaches to using participatory photography in research
Wed 13 March 2024:
Researching Undocumented Women in Transit. Challenges and Strategies of Fieldwork on the Mexican Border
Wed 24 April 2024:
The sound of amateur cinema: collections, oral history.

All are welcome to attend this free seminar series. You will need to register in advance for each session to receive the online joining link. Please click on the Book Now button at the top of the page to register for the seminar taking place on Wed 24 April 2024.