On any given day, MoMA curators, librarians, registrars, educators, and others are en route to a conference, lecture, studio visit, or exhibition near home or abroad. Travel is both a constant and a marvelous perk of working at the Museum. However, unlike the ubiquitous nature of staff travel today, in 1946 the Museum actually issued a press release announcing founding Film Library curator Iris Barry’s trip to Paris to attend the annual conference of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). Barry’s trip was itself something of a novel occurrence, but more importantly it marked the first official gathering of those FIAF archives since the outbreak of World War II in Europe.FIAF was founded in July 1938 in order to promote cooperation among the handful of film archives in existence. The founding archives were The Museum of Modern Art, Cinemathèque Française (Paris), National Film Archive (London), and the Reichsfilmarchiv (Berlin). The 1939 Congress took place in New York, with John Abbott, director of the MoMA Film Library, serving as the president of FIAF. The inclusion of new members and the business of FIAF was temporarily halted while WWII raged in Europe. In July 1946 the members came together once again at the Cinemathèque Française in Paris, though the Reichsfilmarchiv was not represented. According to a FIAF document published on the 20th anniversary of the federation, “the decision was then taken to accord the quality of founder member to the Soviet Union (Gosfilmofond)” at the 1946 meeting. Clearly, the organization took to heart their mission to promote film as an art form and as a historical record—one that was physically fragile and required preservation and conservation to survive. World politics did little to disrupt this commitment.
At the 1946 Congress in Paris, Iris Barry was elected president of FIAF. Minutes from the meeting show a lively conversation between the participants—including the legendary Henri Langlois from the Cinemathèque Française—about topics like the adoption of best practices in methodologies and creation of film libraries. All participants endorsed the commonly held concept that film was valuable as a teaching tool in the dissemination of information about life and culture. The mechanics of running a film library that would circulate film prints through traditional libraries, universities, and schools was also a popular topic of discussion.
From Paris, Iris Barry continued to London, though there are no details in the press release of her British agenda. Perhaps, as a native of the U.K. (born in Birmingham, 1895), she was off on a holiday or a visit to see family and friends?
The next FIAF congress will take place in Italy, June 23–28, 2016, and will be hosted by the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna. The Cineteca, which joined FIAF in 1989, is one of 153 current member and affiliate film archives in the federation.