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Found Footage Filmmaking and Copyright

An interview with Claudy Op den Kamp.

By Greta Calaciura08 June 2021

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This Is Film 2021 campagnebeeld
This Is Film 2021 campagnebeeld
This is Film! 2021, #1: Copyright

As part of the public lecture series This is Film! Film Heritage in Practice, devoted to remarkable projects in the fields of film restoration and film heritage, Eye invited Claudy Op den Kamp, Senior Lecturer in Film at Bournemouth University (UK), to talk about the topic of copyright. The practice of found footage filmmaking has changed tremendously in the digital age, elevating copyright to a key topic. In her lecture, Claudy Op den Kamp demonstrates how copyright is differently ‘activated’ in art and cinema contexts, addressing - amongst other examples - the Film ist. trilogy (1998-2009) by Gustav Deutsch. As part of this first lecture, a special online version of Film ist. has been made available on the Eye Film Player. Because of copyright limitations, this version consists of selected chapters from Film ist. (1-6) and Film ist. (7-12).

Still from Film Ist.
Still from Film Ist.
Still from Film Ist.
Still from Film Ist.
Still from Film Ist.
Still from Film Ist.

Claudy Op den Kamp holds a PhD from Plymouth University on the relationship between copyright ownership, access to archival film, and film historiography. She is a graduate of the University of Amsterdam (Film & Television Studies) and the University of East Anglia (Film Archiving). She has worked as Haghefilm Conservation’s Account Manager; as a Film Restoration Project Leader at the Nederlands Filmmuseum, and as a senior research assistant at the Department of Film Studies at the University of Zurich. She was a guest at Eye for the 2020 edition of This is Film! Film Heritage in Practice, and returned in 2021 on the same topic.

In her talk during the 2020 edition of This is Film! Film Heritage in Practice, Claudy Op den Kamp introduced and defined the umbrella term of Intellectual Property (IP) and copyright in order to delve into the controversies around the distribution of Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003). For the 2021 edition, she was originally planning to extend that discussion by showing Public Domain (USA, Hollis Frampton, 16mm, 1972) and Film ist. a girl & a gun (AT, Gustav Deutsch, 35mm, 2009). Both films, however, haven’t been digitized nor cleared for online use, which supports her argument and idea that copyright gets activated rather differently in different distribution contexts. More than ten years ago, Gustav Deutsch even told her that he thought Film ist. a girl & a gun would never be released commercially and then it would be difficult to clear for any other use than theatrical release. And here we are, 10 years later, and indeed, unable to show the last part of this trilogy online.

Copyright: not a list of things you cannot do

In your first talk at This is Film! 2020 you emphasized how sad it is that copyright is often taught as a list of the things you cannot do, rather than the things you can do. You push your students to actively use others' material property, trying to adhere to the Channel 4 guidelines in the UK. Would you care to expand on what sorts of activities and exercises your students carry out? What has been their response towards such activities?

“Looking at the topic of film and copyright I realized how vast it was, particularly coming from an archival background, and that I needed some sort of way in to make it important to my students. I quickly understood that what was really powerful to them as filmmakers was how they could use copyright exceptions - exploring under which conditions you are allowed to re-use other people’s work. As a consequence, there was a real shift for me as well. Particularly in creative contexts, copyright is seen as this list of things you are not allowed to do. The focus on copyright exceptions became empowering for all of us because it turned out to be very nice to teach copyright in a constructive light.

This past semester we have seen some amazing work produced. I teach this particular unit with my colleagues James [Fair], who is a filmmaker, and Melanie [Brown], who is a lawyer. We give the students two options for their project. The first option is to make an adaptation of a book that they like and they then build a set of documents, which includes an audience positioning brief, a treatment, and an option agreement - they actually write a contract. They also write a critical analysis analyzing how their IP decisions are related to their creative interventions.

The second option is what we call a ‘collagementary’, where they have to make something between 5-7 minutes that is either partially or wholly put together of material by other people while taking the UK’s Channel 4 Fair Dealing guidelines as their demarcation. For this option, they also write a critical analysis.

The best work
we have seen this semester used Eric Fadden’s A Fair(y) Use Tale as an inspiration. Professor Fadden at Bucknell University made the educational video on copyright with his students, putting together animations from Disney in order to explain what fair use is, by having the actual characters from the Disney films speak the words of the script. What made it particularly powerful is that Disney is sort of famous for suing every artist who even remotely looks in the direction of their work. Our student took this work as an inspiration to do something similar with the work of JK Rowling. He wrote a critical response to JK Rowling’s essay that she published in June 2020, which was widely criticised for being transphobic, and the student had every word spoken by the characters from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films.”

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A Fair(y) Use Tale by Eric Faden

As you discuss in your text Art of Defiance: Found Footage, Legal Provenance, and the “Aesthetics of Access”, “archives can act as an impediment or catalyst to found footage filmmakers in providing them access to unique material” and “greatly expanded access to video content outside of that context has altered found footage filmmakers’ need to work through audiovisual archives”. What sources did your students use for this project?

“None of the students went to a physical archive, that’s for sure. I think my students are very much of the generation “if it’s not available online, it doesn’t exist”. For me personally, it took working on the inside to know my way around archives, but from the outside, these institutes can be fortresses.

In general, I would say that to get students interested in something, which is completely outside of their purview, you have to hand it to them in small bite-size chunks, while ideally showing some passion for the topic at hand. Silent cinema, for instance. We decided to take them to a screening of a Buster Keaton film with live piano accompaniment at the BFI, which turned out to be an incredible experience - they were so amazed. I was happy that we were able to offer that film to them in this way because they might have never walked into a venue to see a silent film in the first place.

And so, it’s always fun to see one or two students come out of such an experience with a newfound passion for archives! And it echoes my own experience; I saw Peter Delpeut’s Lyrical Nitrate in film class during my undergraduate days, and it blew my mind. I then ended up working at the Nederlands Filmmuseum where the film originated. NFM, now Eye Filmmuseum, does a really good job at making its material visible and attractive in unusual ways. Especially in the new setting, in this wonderful new building where other things are happening as well, it is bound to happen that once in a while someone will wander into something that utterly surprises and fascinates them.

If I look at my students though, you can see that their world and experience of filmmaking, which is very much outside of the world of the archive, is changing so fast, that the archive as a concept is seen to be under pressure. Working with archives in general means you will have to work with limitations and negotiations, and their set of regulations, and not everyone is willing to put in that perseverance!”

Lyrical Nitrate stills
Lyrical Nitrate stills

Would you say that the practice of using material of other people has been more prominent in certain times than in other times? Or is it something that has always been important and used? Has there ever been a “golden age”?

“The earliest examples we know of people using other people’s material are as old as there has been film – the two nearly go hand in hand, and that’s interesting in itself. We can see that in certain times, the practice was much more of an underground art practice, but we can also recognize peaks, for sure. The ‘90s, for instance, saw an incredible surge in found footage films that dealt with reusing very recognizable and famous material. We also see quite some literature on the topic emerge during this time. Currently, we are seeing supercuts, fan videos, and “collagementaries.” It has becomes so incredibly easy to put these works together that we have ended up in a space where it has almost become the norm to reuse other people’s work. One of the main questions I want to ask in my new book on the topic is: can we even compare these practices? Is one (even) an extension of the other? Are these shifting definitions important? And looking at my students, perhaps the definition of an archive is changing as well. I am interested in the negotiations between all of these elements, but more than anything, I’d like my students to think for themselves while delving into these questions, and at the end of the day find their own voices as filmmakers.”