Jane Fish, Senior Curator, Imperial War Museums, Wins FOCAL's "Footage Person of the Year"

Jane Fish, Senior Curator for Film at the Imperial War Museums Media Sales and Licensing, was named “Footage Person of the Year” at the 2019 FOCAL Awards, held on June 20th in London. Footage.net sponsored the award, and we sat down with Jane after the celebration to find out more about her work at the IWM.  

Footage.net: Congratulations on winning the “Footage Person of the Year” award at this year’s FOCAL Awards. That’s quite an honor.

Jane Fish: Thank you. I was surprised and delighted to receive the FOCAL “Footage Person of the Year” Award, which I see as an award for all of us in the IWM Film Curator team – myself, Fiona Kelly and Helen Upcraft - as I could not have achieved the work cited without the support of my colleagues.

FN: To start, can you tell us a bit about the Imperial War Museums?

JF: Imperial War Museums, or IWM as it is known, is a unique organization – a UK national museum set up in 1917 to record everyone’s experience of war, both civilian and military, and to commemorate the sacrifice of all sections of society. From its beginnings, IWM included film amongst its collections and as such is one of the oldest film archives in the world. IWM’s remit was extended to cover the Second World War and later conflicts and is the repository for British official films. IWM is an international authority on conflict and its impact, focusing on Britain, its former Empire and the Commonwealth, from its origins in the First World War to the present day.

FN: What type of content is in IWM collection?

JF: The IWM film collection is an exceptional archive reflecting the history and remit of the museum, with substantial collections of British official films (unedited material produced by cameramen of the British Army, RAF and Admiralty, official newsreels and test and instructional films produced for government ministries), material covering the Cold War and more recent British military involvement, a matchless collection of unique amateur films, fascinating foreign collections and well as collections from various organizations including the newly digitized NATO film collection.

FN: As Senior Curator, what is your primary role at the IWM?

JF: I have been working with the IWM film collection for more than three decades and throughout this time I been involved in access to the collection and am always very pleased to help users research and understand the wealth of primary historical material held by IWM and available for use. I also have a specialist interest in amateur filming and have been involved in many productions using amateur footage from our collection. My current role sits within IWM’s new Media Sales and Licensing Team, with core responsibility for the development of our film commercial offer, while continuing to assist and advise users of the film collection. I am also supporting the alignment of our film offer with the commercial offer for the IWM’s renowned images collections and the lesser known IWM Sound collection, to provide more coordinated access to these three IWM media collections, all of which are invaluable resources for program makers.

FN: Over the past 12 months, you have been a driving force for change within the IWM Film Archive and the way in which it delivers a service to its commercial customers. Can you talk about some of the changes you have implemented and how this had made the IWM more relevant and competitive?

JF: IWM is partly funded by the UK Government, but relies on donations, sponsorship, volunteers and income from commercial activities to support its work. The film commercial offer is one of these activities and it is important for both IWM and our users that we constantly review and improve this offer. One of the recent changes has been our ability to supply HD content direct to our users, which been a significant improvement in our service to our customers.

FN: One of the specific reasons you were nominated for the “Person of the Year” award was your role in “enhancing the design and functionality of the IWM Archive website based on researchers’ needs.” That sounds very exciting. Can you talk a bit about the development of the website? How is the new site helping you work with customers?

JF: Yes, we have also recently upgraded our IWM Film website , which is specifically designed for our commercial users. The upgraded site has better functionality and an improved and swifter process for adding newly digitized films as well as new themed clip-reels to help users navigate our collections and articles and news items to engage our users.

FN: You’ve undertaken a “major digitization of the collection.” That sounds daunting! Can you tell us more about the digitization project? How far along are you in digitizing the IWM collection? Do you think it will ever be fully digital? What are the biggest challenges?

JF: IWM has an ongoing project to digitize its collection, including film, but has to work within its funding. Digitization is one of the biggest challenges for IWM - the film collection is over 23,000 hours of material, with currently less than 10% digitized and available online. IWM is, however, committed to the digitization of the film collection and more material is digitized daily and we have recently completed a large project with NATO - digitization the NATO film collection, held at IWM and available for licensing via IWM.

FN: You have been “reviewing the archive’s terms and conditions.” Have you been able to streamline them and make them more commercially oriented?

JF: IWM releases material for commercial use under specific conditions which reflect IWM remit as well as the source and content of the material. The current version of the terms and conditions needed updating not only for ease of use but also to include more recent legislation and new IWM policies designed to meet the needs of our users – for example, colorization of original black and white film.

FN: Business has been good for many historical and editorial archives over the last few years. Has that been your experience at the IWM? What would you say is driving customer demand for your images?

JF: Not surprisingly, considering the nature of our collection, anniversaries are always an important factor for users of the IWM film collection – with considerable demand for the First World War anniversary commemorations and more recently the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We have also seen a rise in demand for our amateur collections reflecting a growing interest in the unique and unusual images that amateur film can offer.

FN: What keeps your work IWM interesting and challenging?

JF: I appreciate the privilege of working with such important primary historical documents and the responsibility to ensure users understand the nature of our collection. I am keen to make our remarkable collection more widely known and understood, so am always available to talk with researchers and development producers about projects. Despite working with the IWM film collection for many years, I enjoy the challenge of responding to a new and unusual request, which might require research of non-online documentation.