Documentary filmmaker and media consultant Talal Al-Muhanna speaks with Matthew Keene, Middle East Business Development Manager for ITN Source, about his work in the GCC and his aspirations for the Kuwait Historic Newsfilm Collection - a unique and exculsive archive of film and video clips charting Kuwait’s history over several decades of development.
As an exemplary project worthy of marking the 50th anniversary of Kuwaiti independence in 2011, the only hurdle apparently remaining for the collection to become permanently accessible to the Kuwaiti people is to find a commited sponsor who recognises the importance and value of preserving and sharing with the coming generations moving images that trace the country’s fascinating road to independence in 1962 and the years that followed.
Al-Muhanna: How long have you been affiliated with ITN? What brought you to the Middle East section of ITN Source?
Keene: I’ve worked for ITN since 1995, first as a researcher on ITN’s flagship news bulletin News at Ten, then as a researcher and web producer on Channel 4 News. I moved over to ITN Source in 2004 where I successfully grew our UK Museums and Heritage business before turning my focus to the Middle East. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to travel widely throughout the region and have been delighted by the warm welcome and also the interest in our unique historic and contemporary newsfilm collections.
Q: What kinds of projects have you been involved with in the GCC?
A: Currently, I manage ITN Source’s relationship with the Al Jazeera Network but have also worked with a number of clients in the region on cultural, educational and heritage projects. For instance, we have worked with HRH Princess Mishail bint Faisal bin Turki and the King Faisal Center in KSA to create a unique collection of historic news material relating to HRH King Faisal. The collection spans His Royal Highness’s life, from age 12 in 1919 through to his untimely death in 1975 and is archived on high quality master tape for reference and research purposes at the King Faisal Centre in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This year we have created another unique collection of newsfilms relating to the UAE for the National Center for Documentation and Research. In this case, the collection is accessible via a fully searchable digital database of films and metadata and has proven ideal for educational and research use.
Q: What is the Kuwait Historic Newsfilm Collection?
A: Numbering some 475 clips dating between 1947 and 1990, the films and metadata of the Kuwait Historic Newsfilm Collection provide over 20 hours of historical documentation of significant events featuring Kuwait and Kuwaiti rulers on the world stage, and also various news features on the growth of Kuwait. The films are mostly held on the original 35mm stock, and vary in length from one to six minutes. Most have natural sound, some have a reporter voice-over, and some are footage only.
Q: What is the importance of these clips from a documentary perspective and what makes them unique?
A: The films have their own intrinsic value as historic documents and learning objects - especially as each film has individual shot list metadata with date and location, and breakdown of shots and identification of key individuals. The collection of historic newsfilms relating to Kuwait is also exclusive to ITN Source and, like our other Gulf countries collections, we are proud to be the custodians of something which provides a valuable record of the growth and development of Arabian Gulf countries in the 20th Century. There is nothing else like it in my view.
Q: How can this material be accessed by Kuwaitis for cultural or educational research, public appreciation or for use in documentaries about the country - for example in time for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Kuwaiti independence in 2011?
A: As of yet, the collection is not available for a wider use. Since there are significant costs involved in digitizing all the films and creating a database of the content, it would be necessary that a patron or a public or private institution in Kuwait interested in making this wealth of information available - for example to the public, to universities and to researchers - funds a project to bring it out of the archives and into the light so to speak. However, we can also license specific clips and footage for agreed-upon fees. Detailed lists of what is contained in the archive are available for all serious enquiries of course.
Q: Can you give an example of what kinds of exclusive materials about Kuwait are stored in the archives of ITN Source?
A: One of our earlier black and white clips from 1947 shows the first barrel of oil being pumped and the celebrations marking its shipment. One can see Sheikh Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah turning the wheel of the oil pipe followed by celebratory scenes of dancing and music. It’s really a classic. But there are also later clips of the opening of the first Parliament in 1963 where we see Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah open the inaugural session. So, some truly historic moments have been captured and preserved.
Q: Any plans to work with regional TVs to promote the dissemination of the Gulf State’s historic newsreel collections?
A: ITN has been active in the region, working with STV in Saudi Arabia, MBC and have recently been working with HH Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, on a full re-launch of Sharjah TV, including technology refresh, re-branding, recruitment and training.
Additionally we are also working directly with His Highness to create a private collection of historic news material selected by his Highness. We have delivered a fully searchable digital database of films and metadata, for display use in the new audio-visual room of the Sharjah Gulf Studies Centre.
For further information please contact:
Talal Al-Muhanna/Linked Productions
+965 5501 7200 (Mobile), 2522 0651 (Office)
All images courtesy ITN Source.
First published in Men's Passion issue #31 May 2011