An interview with Dr. Diego Cavallotti, Post-Doc Researcher, University of Udine, La Camera Ottica


What is your lab called and where is it?

Our lab is called La Camera Ottica. It is part of the Department of Humanities and the Cultural Heritage – University of Udine. It is located in Gorizia (Italy), a small town on the border between Italy and Slovenia. Our director is Prof. Cosetta Saba and Lisa Parolo is the head of the “video section” while I’m currently the head of the “film section.”

What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?

We are specialized in two main fields. Firstly, we focus on the preservation of small-gauge films (mainly 9.5mm, 16mm, 8mm and Super8): this means that we work mostly on amateur films and home movies (more broadly, on the local/regional film heritage) and on experimental films. Secondly, throughout the years we developed specific skills regarding the preservation of analog video (from the open-reel formats to U-matic, for instance): in these cases, we deal with video-artworks, performance art, etc.

Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?

The lab is mainly used by our researchers in order to have a solid “material” ground to work on when we talk about film history, video-art history, or media history projects. Of course, we also use the lab for teaching purposes: we have two courses and a workshop on preservation practices that take advantage of the practice-oriented trainings that the lab can offer. Moreover, we encourage students to apply for an internship in our lab – more specifically, students from our MA classes – the International Master in Audiovisual and Cinema Studies (IMACS).

What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce and how is it circulated?

The knowledge we produce is often channelled through essays, books, and documents in which we describe the protocols we have developed throughout the years. These protocols regard technical repairs and digitization for small-gauge films and analog videos. Moreover, we elaborated a protocol for the digitization of 35mm films through a photographic scanner (the so-called “Neri protocol”), which we have disseminated during conference presentations and essays.

Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?

Yes, we have a designated space which is a six-room space: the back-office, the digital archiving room (we use LTO tapes), the technical repair room, the digitization room (for small-gauge films), the digital restoration room and the video section. As you can see, every room refers to a specific task.

What sorts of support does the lab receive?

As a part of a university department, we receive support from University of Udine. That being stated, our annual budget is mainly (self-)financed through external sources (preservation/digitization projects we develop in collaboration with our partners and customers, and so on). Furthermore, the lab represents an invaluable asset when our department or research group applies for European or Italian programs: of course, that is another way in which we can receive more funding.

What are your major theoretical touchstones?

First of all, our research group has always had strong interconnections with the so-called “School of Bologna” (Nicola Mazzanti, Gian Luca Farinelli, Michele Canosa, Leonardo Quaresima, etc.), which, throughout the 1980s, the 1990s, and the early 2000s, represented a touchstone for film preservation/restoration and film philology. More specifically, we refer to Leonardo Quaresima, who funded the film and media studies research group here in Udine/Gorzia. Alongside Leonardo Quaresima, another key reference for us is Alberto Farassino, who taught “Film History” in Trieste.

Moreover, a relevant touchstone is (of course) the domain of Media Archaeology: we got in touch with it through the essays of Wanda Strauven and Thomas Elsaesser. Later on, we extended our research interests, studying the works of Siegfried Zielinski, Jussi Parikka, Erkki Huhtamo and Annie van den Oever/Andreas Fickers, and organising workshops for the “Media Archaeology” section of our annual “FilmForum” MAGIS Spring School.

What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?

I could refer to some restoration projects we worked on in the last years: for instance, the Vincenzo Neri Collection project (a neurological film collection of the early 20th Century) or several Italian video artworks of the Seventies (ASAC-Biennale and Palazzo dei Diamanti [Ferrara] collections, and so on). Apart from that, in my opinion, our major accomplishments regard the protocol we developed for small-gauge film (see, for instance, Gianni Caproni film collection) and for analog video restoration.

Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3-5 years?

Our goal for the next 3-5 years is to hybridize in a deeper fashion the epistemic tools and instruments we have developed as well as those coming from media-archaeological studies and expertise. More specifically, we would like to build a media-archaeology lab using the old “analog” technologies we have recovered.

What makes your lab a lab?

First of all, I think it is the infrastructure itself: we have all the material tools and instruments a small lab should have. Secondly, it is the expertise of the people that are working in it – most of all, our technician Gianandrea Sasso, who is one of the most skilled technicians in this field. Thanks to him (and his assistant Mary Comin) we are able to collaborate with several European and Italian institutions – mainly film and video archives, other film and video labs, etc.

In regards to the students, we can offer them a practice-centred lab experience, which is, in my opinion, something unique for the Italian university community.