The Man Who Took Films In – Huntley Archives

Archivists young and old appreciate the value of deep research and access in this era of shortened attention spans and rushed internet searches. Huntley Archives has always been known for holding unique, quirky or unusual films within a vast and growing collection. Office Manager Bronwyn Neal was kind enough to chat in-depth with us recently.

The founder of Huntley Archives, John Huntley had a fascinating career, starting with him working for Alexander Korda, writing film reviews for the RAF, and establishing a 23-year associations with the British Film Institute. Can you talk about how he and his daughter were prompted to form the Archives?

John Huntley had been collecting films from 1945 and built a sizeable private collection.  Production and television companies came to know of John as ‘the man who took films in’ and donated their collections to him.  His daughter Amanda remembers growing up in a house in London where kitchen cupboards were full of film reels; and the staircase was only half width as her father efficiently used the stairs as additional shelving. John used the films to illustrate his talks on a variety of subjects, and toured the world with such shows as cinema in Australia, cricket in the West Indies, and the transport of London.

At the same time, John’s phone started to ring with enquiries for documentary film clips to illustrate television production and Amanda joined her father to run the sales division.  British television channel Channel 4 commissioned a whole range of quality history documentaries.  Huntley Film Archives supplied footage and sales grew rapidly.  Over the intervening thirty plus years licensing requirements have expanded into a wide range of television, corporate, educational, feature and museum needs; and the Huntley team supply footage for documentary and entertainment productions alike.

You have a collection that covers over 100 years of Social History in all aspects. How do you find your material?

Unlike the majority of libraries which have a specialist field of interest – sport, or natural history or news being prime examples – Huntley has been entirely eclectic in its collections.  We combine the best of the ethos of the public and private sectors and preserve all films whilst needing to be commercial and make these films available. This has meant a very wide range of long-retired producers have lodged their films with us. They know their films will be protected and cared for in our preservation vaults.  New (old) collections arrive at the archive every month and whilst the core of the library is set between the 1890’s and the 1970’s we now hold over 5,000 hours of tape from feature film production from the last 20 years.

Tell us a bit about how you look after the collection – storage, cataloging, etc. Do clients ever come to your facilities to search?

Our films are stored in a temperature and humidity controlled vault to preserve them as best as possible. Our 80,000 + films are logged on our in-house database with all the pertinent information, such as date, category, title, format, language, origin and most importantly a detailed synopsis that describes the footage. It is this synopsis that our customers can search on our website and enables us to match films with our researchers’ requirements. We welcome clients to our premises; but our online database search facility has over 14,000 digitised clips for viewing online and we  provide free research to help customers find what they need.

I see that you offer film archiving classes – great service and much needed. How are they structured and taught? I would think that a lot of researchers seeking you out would need a crash course in working with archival materials.

We offer a range of courses, which prove popular with people from different backgrounds.   These could be people new to the industry, or those seeking a change of emphasis – perhaps they have been in production and now they want to work on the other side.  We teach the practice of film archiving – it is next to impossible to find practical information on this outside our courses – and this year’s London-based course has a five week classroom element backed by work placements at leading industry institutions. There is clearly a great need for enthusiastic archivists and librarians to learn about film and last year’s students have all entered the industry, attaining positions with Sky News, the BBC, the BFI and other leading companies. Huntley has a proud history of preparing and introducing new talent to the industry; and previous delegates have gone on to work in a variety of film and archive-based jobs for such bodies as the European Space Agency, the Bosnian Film Archive, ITN, for producers in the U.K. and Canada, and in archives in Israel amongst many more.

Our next available courses are aimed at media professionals who are seeking insight into the archive world, but are short of time. Hence we are offering two 1-day beginners’ courses at the BFI in London in October 2016.

Some of your favorite clips would be?

I love seeing places and everyday life and just how social history and fashion has evolved. Some great examples are:   1900 in Paris, the first travelator! Berlin 1920s streets

How do you compete and find your clients?

Huntley Film Archives is one of the largest of independent film archives in the world, stands alone and values its independence.  The lead researchers in the company have worked for Huntley for more than 25 years and know the archive inside out. Databases are all very well, but talking to a librarian who knows the collection will generate so much more than a simple online search. Nuance, feeling and subtlety are needed when searching for those tricky shots.  Fewer libraries mean less choice for the customer. Currently in development, and launching later in 2016, is our online portal; where clients can download master files for their productions. See our You Tube Channel, HuntleyHD, for an idea of the films that will be available via our own shop.

Is there a memorable project that comes to mind?

One of our recent projects was a lovely piece of footage about Japanese workers and family life in Tokyo in the 1960s, provided for Japanese TV. It was surprisingly to think that such footage couldn’t be sourced locally by Japanese TV producers, but I guess this is a good indicator of how worldwide our collection is.

Please add anything that you would like the readers know about the Archives.

Our ethos is traditional and old-fashioned but our delivery methods are current.  We really are a film archive – all our films dating from the 1980’s and earlier remain on the original 35mm, 16mm and amateur gauges.  Client technical requirements change yearly, and we have always found going back to the original source material to provide a new master is what the client really wants. We can provide the quality to suit any requirement.

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