04 January 2021 Blogs, Academic, Librarian

Overcoming Subtitles: Valeria Estefanía Dávila Gronros on the Importance of Diversity in Film

ProQuest interviews a MLIS student and scholarship recipient about her bourgeoning career in audiovisual preservation and archiving.

For a librarian, Valeria Estefanía Dávila Gronros has a unique background. With an inherent love of film and an undergraduate degree in cinematography, she’s currently pursuing an MLIS degree with an emphasis in audiovisual archiving at the University of Alabama. 

In June 2020, Valeria was awarded the first-ever deg farrelly Memorial Scholarship for her work in librarianship and film. Valeria spoke about her passion for film – and the fascinating story of her career – in a recent interview with ProQuest.

ProQuest: Your interest in film preservation began in your home country, Argentina. What sparked you to pursue an education in film?

Valeria: The spark ignited the day I discovered silent cinema: Le Voyage dans la Lune, Nosferatu and Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. I was enchanted. I was so curious about films, and, looking back, I realize how much sharing and exploring this interest with my friends contributed to its growth – we regularly rented VHS tapes in the local store, went to independent cinema screenings hosted by a film club that existed at the time, and produced a zine. I decided to pursue a career in film, which was a rather eccentric career choice at the time, and film programs were scarce.

In fact, there were none in my home city of Ushuaia. I moved to Buenos Aires, studied filmmaking and photography, and stayed there after I landed a temporary position in digital film restoration as a senior student. That position ended up lasting four years, during which I helped restore Argentinian and Latin American films. I’ve been fortunate to have had done this significant work, and it was during this time that I became interested in audiovisual preservation and archiving.

Why did you decide to pursue your MLIS? How is your background in film impacting your work?

My husband and I moved to the US in fall 2016 and I started volunteering at the library’s digitization department during a massive digitization project with the Oregon Historical Society. I knew the Valley Library had a Special Collections and Archives Research Center with some audiovisual collections, and so my aim was to someday get to work with those materials.

Shortly after I started volunteering, I traveled back to Buenos Aires to attend the 2017 Film Preservation and Restoration School Latin America, organized by the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), and was hired as digitization technician upon my return. In that position, I worked on the preservation of my first set of 16-millimeter films and was advised by my supervisor to pursue an MLIS degree. After completing my first year at Emporia State University, I transferred to the University of Alabama to pursue an MLIS degree with an emphasis in audiovisual archiving, where I completed my first term this fall and where I am working to establish a student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). This year, I’ve also worked on my second film preservation endeavor at the Valley Library, this time reassessing a bigger set of 16-millimeter films.

You’ve talked about your commitment to pursuing a diverse culture through access to international films. Tell us about that commitment and what practical steps filmmakers, publishers, libraries and schools can take to achieve it.

I think the starting point is watching more foreign and foreign-language films. This is crucial because there is great resistance in the US to foreign films, most especially to non-English films. Parasite, the film by Bong Joon-ho, made history this year after winning the Academy’s “Best International Feature Film” and “Best Picture” categories. This precedent is promising, but this resistance, especially to subtitles, is still high. This phenomenon is so well-known in the cinematic world that Bong Joon-ho referred to it in his award-acceptance speech, famously saying, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” So, I’d say start right there – overcome that barrier, watch more foreign and foreign-language films, and be open to discovering other worlds.

I currently volunteer with the Oregon State International Film Festival (OSIFF) based in Corvallis, and I’d like to invite folks to check these amazing international films in our virtual cinema platform.

Tell us why you think video is so valuable in the educational experience – and the importance of librarianship in the process.

In high school, I watched several films in class that exposed me to stories and realities other than mine. Those movies made an impact on my younger self, which endured and matured over time, and helped me grow as a person. I think librarianship can facilitate meaningful discovery and engagement with film by appreciating audiovisual resources as a valid resource, by recognizing their importance – one that is equal to that of text resources – and recommending them more often. I also encourage faculty to include more audiovisual works in educational programs.

What inspired you to apply for the deg farrelly Memorial scholarship?

I applied for the scholarship because of financial necessity, and I used the funds to pay for tuition and fees. But the scholarship, which honors deg farrelly, has inspired me to learn more about him, his work and contributions as a video librarian at Arizona State University – one of which has been the Section 108 Due Diligence Project, which facilitates media librarians across the US to cooperate to identify VHS tapes in their collections eligible for digital copying under Section 108 of the copyright law. This project does so much for improving access to video.

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