Juliette Fattal: Stepping into the Archive Industry

Juliette Fattal shares her two-month experience as a freelance archive researcher with the French production company Drôle de Trame.

This week Archives in Motion takes a look into the world of a talented novice archive researcher as she reacts in the heat of the moment to reveal the ups-and-downs of the profession. Juliette Fattal recounts her two-month experience with the French production company Drôle de Trame.

Drôle de Trame and the archive industry

After completing a two-year technical degree in audiovisual media and a Masters degree at INA Sup (a renowned program attached to the French Institut National Audiovisuel that trains students in the field of audiovisual media preservation, management), Juliette Fattal was recruited by the production house Drôle de Trame to work on their upcoming web series. Landing this opportunity through a connection from school, Juliette emphasized the importance of building and maintaining a network of contacts.

Drôle de Trame, founded in 2009, is known for producing documentaries and multimedia content as well as organizing exhibitions and special shows in collaboration with museums and cultural/scientific institutions. When Juliette joined Drôle de Trame, the team was developing a web series on the history of the leather jacket.

The series aims at showing the evolution and revolution of this garment, from its birth in the army to its popularity in pop culture; from being donned by rock stars and bikers to being worn by top models and pop icons. The 10 x 4 minutes web series will be broadcast by Arte Creative later in the year.

Archival image of French singer Françoise Hardy who wears a leather jacket on the cover of 'Salut les copains'

French singer Françoise Hardy features on the cover of ‘Salut les copains’ wearing a customized perfecto.

File-moi ton cuir, a web series documentary by Stephane Carrel

File-moi ton cuir (meaning ‘give me your leather’) was Juliette’s first major project as an archive researcher; and, as she confessed at the beginning of our interview, it immediately presented her with a real challenge. She had to learn the ropes of being an archive researcher on the fly, from learning how to effectively browse multiple collections at the same time to negotiating and licensing the right material on time and without exceeding the archive budget. The peculiarity of the project was that the film’s director, Stephane Carrel, had pre-selected most of the images he wanted to use in the web documentary. This meant that Juliette could not simply look for generic content. Right from the start, she had to unlock specific sources, since the director already had a clear picture of what he wanted. However, in spite of this pre-selection, Carrel was open to fresh ideas and suggestions, and Juliette had the opportunity to propose unique material for the project.

With her relatively limited experience into the archive industry, Juliette counted on her studies and her ingenuity to find relevant archival stills and footage. Searching for music on a budget, licensing expensive songs from original records was out of the question. Initially, the team wanted to use punk music from 1950-60s singer Vince Taylor and The Ramones, but they quickly realized that the songs owned by diverse rightholders were prohibitively expensive. Ingeniously, Juliette and her team decided to licence one of Vince Taylor’s live performances whose music licensing was mostly managed by the Belgian archive provider SONUMA. She was similarly able to extract movie trailers from DVDs, like the Wolverine series and Terminator, to include film extracts in the documentary. Extracting trailers for professional use, she told us, is generally tolerated if the original language, the audio, and the quality of images are properly respected, meaning unaltered.

Even though in most situations Juliette’s creativity served her well, she nevertheless faced some beginner’s challenges. For example, she underestimated the time that it would take to find the prices of archival images since very few providers share this kind of information online. As she claimed herself, “this made me lose some precious time!” Interestingly, she revealed that the most accessible material she found and licensed came from collections and collectors she discovered by sheer luck. When looking for a particular album cover of Johnny Hallyday (a well-known French singer and musician) whose rights were held by an unknown photographer, she was luckily able to trace down the owner after only a few phone calls. However, she did not solely rely on chance. Juliette also has the lay of the land when it comes to prominent institutions where genuine archival material is stored. Even so, she offered that she would have benefited from access to a wider range of international archives and from a better understanding of their pricing practices.

Retrospective on her first experience as an archive researcher

Following her experience with Drôle de Trame, Juliette considers her two-month mission a positive one. Although the work was intense, she acquired valuable knowledge and gained in maturity. “The real satisfaction came from the ‘human side’ of the job,” she said. She enjoyed discovering new collections and talking to new people everyday. The other aspect she truly liked was her involvement in the project, knowing that the images she found and licensed contributed to the evolution of the documentary. At times she found it disconcerting at first to work alone, often from home, but quickly overcame this aspect of the job. Indeed, being an archive researcher essentially means being autonomous and resourceful. Her resourcefulness eventually paid off when she stumbled upon rare archive footage featuring personalized flight jackets from World War II. As the team had already gathered enough black-and-white stills, the director, Carrel, wanted to use footage featuring special leather jackets. The colored video Juliette found depicted soldiers wearing classic flight jackets while riding bikes. Following her discovery, she contacted the owner of the video, John Walker, and learned that he was an operator and part of a WWII veterans’ association. His video library remains relatively unknown (due to its lack of visibility) although it contains exceptional content and archival gems. Nowadays, researchers are more and more after rare and unseen footage and collections like the one of John Walker can prove to be real treasures.

Now that the research for File-moi ton cuir is over, the young researcher eagerly awaits her next project. The experience and expertise she earned the first time around will undoubtedly be valuable.

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