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Five questions for Gerdien Smit

 

In our ‘5 questions for’ section, we talk to interesting people and dive deeper into the field of oral history. Gerdien Smit is Collection Policy Officer and Assistant Chief Curator at Eye Film Museum. She examines the early years of Feminist Film Collective Cinemien.

 

1/ Can you introduce yourself (briefly)?

“This year I have been working at Eye Film Museum: an archive, cinema , a supported institution and film museum in Amsterdam North, dedicated to collecting, restoring, preserving, making accessible, presenting, researching and promoting film art, film heritage and film culture.

 

In 2022, I was given the opportunity to set up an oral history pilot study within Eye thanks to a Museum grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The starting point was oral history and a subject that is close to my heart: the underexposed role of women in film history.”

 

2/ Your research focuses specifically on Feminist Film Collective Cinemien. Can you tell us a little more about who they were?

“Feminist Film Collective Cinemien was founded in Amsterdam during the heyday of the second feminist wave. Cinemien felt that there were too few women working in the production, distribution and exhibition of films. By purchasing and distributing women’s films, they not only wanted to improve the position of female directors, but also counterbalance the stereotypical image of women in mainstream films and contribute to awareness of women’s film culture.”

 

3/ How did you end up at Cinemien and how did you apply the oral history method?

“Eye recently acquired Cinemien’s extensive collection, which consists of 2,000 film prints, posters, promo photos, film files and the company archive (1974-2006). Although many people know Cinemien today as an arthouse film distributor, few know that they had an activist past as a feminist film collective, and enjoyed great international prestige at the time. Using the oral history method, I looked for personal testimonies that could provide further context and depth to this special and hitherto underexposed collection.  “I conducted oral history interviews with five women, both the ‘Cinemiens’ themselves and women who were involved in the organization from outside. There are many more people on my wish list, but those interviews will have to wait until a follow-up project.”

 

4 / What role does oral history play for archives such as Eye and what are the ambitions for the future?

“Within an archive, oral history is invaluable in offering underrepresented groups a platform when written sources are lacking. For Eye, oral history is therefore a valuable method to contribute to a more inclusive representation of film history, with diverse voices and perspectives. This can lead to a reinterpretation of film history and recognition of previously overlooked contributions. In addition, it is important and urgent to safeguard the stories and memories of older generations of filmmakers, collectors and professionals.

One of the objectives of this project was also to gather knowledge and experience within Eye that we can use in the long term. Behind this pilot study lies a greater ambition: a sustainable oral history program that is embedded within Eye’s activities.”

 

5/ When will the material from this study be accessible and will everyone have access to it?

“The video recordings of the interviews and the transcriptions will be stored in the Eye catalog and digital archive, and will be available to everyone in the Eye Collection Center’s center of expertise, the Eye Study. The recordings will be made public in mid-2024, well before the 50th anniversary in 2025, so that researchers, students, journalists, filmmakers and enthusiasts have access to new source material for their work.”

 

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