100 tales from the world's cinema vaults

Rachael Stoeltje

Rachael Stoeltje is the Founding Director of the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive and the President of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). 

Stoeltje, who also teaches moving image preservation at IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, said  "...the book is not intended to be a comprehensive history of cinematic technology, but to offer interesting descriptions of devices, reveal the impact they had in history and how cinema developed differently worldwide."

 “It’s almost like a portrait of an object,” she said. “What we really wanted to do was to think about objects in archives that tell stories, the technological part of cinema, like the very first camera.”

In a darkened room, a panel of speakers sits on a stage with a large screen above them.  The screen has a collage of images visible. There is a seated audience.
A panel of speakers is seated at a table. A women wearing glasses speaks into a microphone

 Photo credit to Valerio Greco. 

The Brussels-based International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), dedicated to preserving and accessing the world’s film heritage, published the book in partnership with TECHNÈS, the International Research Partnership on Cinema Technology, based at the University of Montreal.  The June 2023 book launch was a presentation and reception held as part of  the Cinema Ritrovato, a film festival held annually in Bologna, Italy.  

Co-editor Louis Pelletier (TECHNÈS) is a University of Montreal researcher who teaches film history, and also been published by IU Press. Stoeltje, who served on FIAF’s executive committee, said the two organizations issued a call for proposals in late 2020 to 150 archives and related institutions worldwide. She reported 187 proposals received, of which 100 were selected, written by 113 authors. Editing, getting device images, and preparing for publication took more than two years. 

“We received remarkably rich histories,” she said. "Some were written in French and most were in English, but each submission was translated in the other language and included in both."

"Of special interest," she said, "is the foreword written by filmmaker Christopher Nolan, whose movie Oppenheimer came out over the summer." FIAF gave him an honorary award in 2017 for his advocacy for film preservation, and current FIAF Executive Committee member Shivendra Singh Dungarpur asked Mr. Nolan to write the foreword. 

“Even though he was in the midst finalizing everything for Oppenheimer, he accepted. We are so honored to have his contribution,” she said. He writes of the importance of preserving the medium of film and that technological innovations have a timeless quality. 

From the publisher

Tales from the Vaults: Film Technology over the Years and across Continents collects 100 stories of boundless creativity and ingenuity. Submitted by the archives and film preservationists who now care for this long-neglected heritage alongside historians, these tales cover a wide range of pre-cinema, cinema, video and digital devices developed since the eighteenth century, and used all around the world by filmmakers, exhibitors, hobbyists and archivists. Yet, these tales also frequently enable us to conceive film histories that go beyond individual inventors and film auteurs, or the specificities of national cinemas, by making visible the international networks through which film technology was conceived, circulated, used and constantly adapted to emerging practices.