Exhibiting film Behind the scenes
A museum registrar is the person responsible for bringing objects, whether physical or digital, into the museum and ensuring they are catalogued and ready for display in an exhibition. The position of registrar at The Media Majlis presented unique challenges, largely based on our volume of digital material.
As the focus of this inaugural exhibition is to explore a 360° portrayal of Arab identity in moving image, it was important to present a variety of film components and not just Hollywood and/or western portrayals of the region. In many ways, an exhibition of Hollywood content would have been easier due to the amount of publicly known information regarding film producers and distribution channels, and copyright-holders of these films being familiar with requests related to exhibiting their work. However, this would have created a one-dimensional exhibition and excluded many interesting and informative voices from the region and beyond.
In order to find and include regional content, one important area for inclusion was of course Egyptian cinema, as this represents some of the earliest forms of regionally produced moving image. The sourcing of this material, and the corresponding copyright clearances required in order to exhibit it, presented a challenge due to the age of much of the content, and the simple fact that many of the original producers and film companies no longer exist—their work now owned by other entities. As registrar, it is my responsibility to research the purchase and ownership of each film (current and past, referred to in museums as an object’s provenance), and the accompanying copyright in order to confirm legal ownership and therefore gain the appropriate licenses to show excerpts in the exhibition. In some cases this proved impossible to track down, and in others, licensors would not respond to our requests meaning that the content could not be exhibited. Some requests were denied for reasons relating to censorship. While The Media Majlis does not censor its narrative, we have found that third-party distribution and licensing houses sometimes do. Some film distribution companies will not license anyone—including museums and academics—to use excerpts from certain politically sensitive films to ensure that the film is not taken out of context, thereby possibly causing offence (though this has also been the approach of film companies who realize that a film is offensive and most likely fear it is that objectionable aspect of the film that would be discussed in an exhibition). In such cases we have had to look at other ways of representing topics and films in our exhibition’s narratives without explicitly showing the films themselves.
These issues have presented challenges when sourcing and securing copyright(s) and licenses for content for the exhibition. The challenges have meant that inevitably there are some films that are not shown in film clip form that we would have liked to include; instead they may be represented by a still image, marketing material (such as a poster) or secondary discussion such as in an interview or newspaper review. The Media Majlis must meet international museum standards and international copyright laws on all digital and physical objects in exhibitions, which sometimes means certain content cannot be included. Where there are omissions we have endeavored to address them, whether in the exhibition or through public programs, to ensure that the exhibition’s discussions and narratives remain robust and informative, always aiming at providing a 360° perspective of images in film for our visiting public.
This article first appeared in print in Inside the Majlis, exhibition 1, issue 1, page 4.
Leona Bowman is registrar for the museum's inaugural exhibition Arab Identities, images in film. Leona has extensive UK and Qatar national and regional museum experience, specializing in collections management and collections registration. She held the position of Collections Information Manager at the Science Museum in London, where she was responsible for all loans across the Science Museum Group, including the National Science and Media Museum. Before joining The Media Majlis she was Head of Collections Management at Qatar Museums. She has an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, and holds a Diploma in Law and Collections Management from the Institute of Art and Law.