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Abstract

This dissertation examines the evidentiary value of film materials according to the epistemological model designed by Carlo Ginzburg in his essay “Clues. Roots of an Evidential Paradigm.” By “film materials” I mean the physical rolls of film conserved in archival vaults, as carriers of material clues that cannot be retrieved anywhere else, not even in their digital versions. I argue that such objects can be read as documents and as such used as primary sources for historiography. This operation, which requires a particular kind of archival expertise, can be of additional support to more traditional archival research. My goal is that of integrating film archival practices, with particular attention to the digital preservation of analog moving images, with broader theoretical frameworks in film studies. In my first chapter, I explore the practice of digital preservation of analog moving images in light of recent theoretical discussions on the ontology of digital cinema. I argue that digital preservation changes the status of the digitized analog films, which are transformed from objects of use into archival objects. This changed status is at the core of my second chapter, where I show the evidentiary potential of film as an archival object, triggered by the practice of digital preservation as well as by broader discourses surrounding the obsolescence of analog media. In my third chapter, I provide an example of the evidentiary potential of film by examining a group of films in an Italian collection belonging to a Catholic production and distribution company active in Italy from 1938 until the 1980s.

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