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Off Screen: Musicking archive film and reinterpreting collective memory in Coventry

Jose Dias (Principal Investigator);  Helen Wheatley (Co-Investigtor); Clare Watson (Consultant)


Research Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities/Coventry University

University of Warwick

Media Archive for Central England

This is a pilot project of community reinterpretation of collective memory through musicking film archive. The purpose of this pilot project was to animate and interpret MACE’s mute television news collection with collaboration from local artists and community groups through music and spoken word. Using a collection of mute television news archive made in and about Coventry, we delivered a series of community-based workshops to stimulate and respond to conversation as it developed in the room in relation to this mute footage. These workshops fed the production of a curated programme of archive films and the creation of an improvised score, veejaying and spoken word performance to accompany the screening of the curated programme. Participants were asked to describe auditory memories that were surfaced by the footage, or to imagine the sound which was absent from these mute bits of film, to explain/describe what they were seeing on screen, but, crucially, to reflect on what they were not seeing (e.g. who was absent from the story being told by this footage, what histories lie hidden off screen). Artists used these responses to aid them in the process of improvising music, veejaying and creating spoken word to accompany a rescreening of the footage. This was a project yet to be undertaken in the Midlands. From our experience, we believe that developing such a project with MACE helped in bringing parts of the archive to life which are usually inaccessible to the public, enabled the reinterpreting of collective memory, and promoted the archive’s engagement with local communities. More importantly the project provided local communities with a platform to reflect upon the ways in which they feel they have been absent, represented and mis-represented in the news and the media that has informed their history via the moving image. Therefore, this project  explored innovative models and methodologies for participatory research, developed public engagement activities that are related to participatory and co-produced research, and promoted co-production from different institutions/disciplines. The entirety of the process is documented in film, produced by PGR Film students. This will provided PGR students with the opportunity to acquire first-hand knowledge of the research documentary form. Similarly, the documentary will allow us to disseminate the project more effectively in support of academic outputs and to audiences beyond academia, as well as use it as vital reference in future bidding activity and enlarging industry partnerships. Future joint bidding plans have already been discussed with both academic and non-academic partners in this consortium and include the ‘AHRC standard research grant’ (the project will be attractive to the AHRC as it turns its attention to collaborations between HE and the GLAM sector). MACE also wishes to involve the project team in a bid for BFI funding in the new year as a result of this collaboration. The aim of a more ambitious bid in the future, meeting the aspirations of both MACE and the research team, is to expand the project to other communities and cities in the Midlands.

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