Can pirates help save non-fiction works? | by Dan Schindel | March 2022

Find inspiration in the corner of the internet where torrent trackers, MEGA downloads and other bootleg networks thrive

An anonymized screenshot of the homepage of Karagarga, an exclusive torrent tracker for movie buffs

The circulation of non-fiction films online exists in both commercial and counterfeit forms. Addressing the former, in February 2022, 16 independent filmmakers announced that they had trained Missing Movies, a working group dedicated to advancing the cause of preserving films in danger of being left behind. They are particularly concerned with titles that have broken through the gaps in the current entertainment landscape, which promises unlimited choice via streaming platforms but actually offers less than one might find in a video store in its heyday. from VHS. As group manifesto says: “Thousands of films are either completely lost or deemed too small to justify the expense, and are therefore completely unavailable. This is especially true of work created by women and people of color. As a result, we are left with a skewed film history and crucial gaps in our cultural knowledge and heritage.

To drive the point home, the group offers a preliminary list (they promised to expand it) of films that are out of print and unavailable on any streaming service. Notable entries include acclaimed works like Ossie Davis black girl (1972), Elaine May The broken child (1972) and that of Mira Nair Mississippi Masala (1991). (As a sign of how fast these winds can change, Mississippi Masala finally gets a restoration and will be soon on the Criterion Channel.) The group makes no special mention of the documentary, but lists non-fiction films such as Ali, the Fighter (William Greaves, 1975), The memory of justice (Marcel Ophuls, 1976), The House of the Brave (Laurie Anderson, 1986), and eat the document (DA Pennebaker and Bob Dylan, 1972).

As records are relatively sparse among high-level restoration efforts in recent years, the need for such archival work in this area is even more in a hurry. The disturbing case of Eyes on the Prize, a seminal educational series only partially restored and available due to rights issues, is instructive. The few notable recent non-fiction reissues, such as those from 1959 Jazz on a summer day, 1972 ALE, and 1972 national time, were supervised by IndieCollectwhich is dedicated to precisely the kinds of films that Missing Movies seeks to champion.

And yet, there East a way to digitally access most of the documentaries on the missing movies list. If you’re a member of the Karagarga torrent site, a quick search will bring you Anderson’s Concert Film or Ophuls’ Epic Meditation on the Cultural Trauma of War, among thousands of other titles. There’s a little learning curve for running a torrent client (and one should probably use a VPN too), but once you get the hang of it, it’s easier than browsing on most streaming platforms. business streaming. Unlike many torrent communities, “KG”, as it is called, maintains a high level of file quality and specifically curates a selection of rare, foreign, and otherwise obscure films.

While KG’s membership is exclusive, a wider network of moviegoers has grown up around her on social networks, especially on Twitter. You may not be a KG member, but you may know someone who is, or someone who knows someone. It is possible to profit from KG through a complex series of negotiations by finding out what files are available, who has what, or who can get what. (In order to keep the data flow at a reasonable rate, each KG member operates under restrictions on how much they can download, so no one can just get hundreds of titles on a whim.) Similarly, some Twitter users will post timed messages. Links to MEGA folders containing files to download. (That’s how I recently obtained more than two dozen otherwise impossible-to-find Tsai Ming-liang shorts.) This community, entirely ad hoc and local, has created a kind of stochastic, participatory archiving practice.

I spoke with a prolific MEGA downloader who is also studying film preservation and archiving in graduate school. According to his analysis, “The Torrent infrastructure has some really interesting implications from an archiving perspective. Allowing files to be decentralized, existing in identical form on a number of different systems, is their most significant benefit to me. It takes a lot of user trust to maintain these files, but if you can manage that, you have the potential for a lot of backups.

The only catch, beyond getting a hard-to-get invitation to more exclusive trackers like KG, is that none of this is, strictly speaking, legal. Although high profile lawyers are unlikely to be on the hunt for people obtaining copies of films whose rights have mostly expired, piracy can be an uncomfortable prospect for basic ethical or moral reasons, in especially when it comes to works that have a certain level of availability. . In his book ten skies, Erika Balsom admits that the only way she could watch James Benning’s titular film over and over again to analyze it was to hack it:

In the end, seeing something is better than seeing nothing. When I hesitantly mentioned to Benning that I had found the film on YouTube, his response was, “Sharing is caring.” It seemed good – happy, even – that it was there. The bootleg offers a degraded form of access, yes, a significantly lower quality experience, yes. I doubt anyone will come away looking at it feeling like they’ve had a powerful aesthetic experience. Yet its value should not be entirely ignored…

For rarer movies, in many cases, if they weren’t pirated, they wouldn’t be seen at all. As my source said, “These sites save movies that weren’t made for mainstream release, often going so far as to subtitle non-English works that would never get official translations. there’s no archiving without accessibility… I’ve seen so many films that I love because someone took the time to share it with other people when no one else would, and keep it safe when it might otherwise disappear. To me, that’s the archival spirit in action.

The existence of this “archival spirit” is a particularly vital question for interactive non-fiction. Often, these works are inaccessible after making the rounds of film festivals and museum installations. If they’re not put on marketplaces like Steam (where they’re frequently misunderstood by users), how can they be distributed? Obviously, there are additional technical considerations regarding equipment, file formats, etc. internet where rare works are kept alive.

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