A CLOSER LOOK: How SHI’s Celebrations are being digitized, made available online for the first time

A CLOSER LOOK: How SHI’s Celebrations are being digitized, made available online for the first time

Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: March 19th, 2021

Emily Pastore with the original U-matic and Betacam tapes that Celebration 1982 were recorded on and the external hard drive where all the digitized footage is saved. Photo by Lyndsey Brollini.

By Lyndsey Brollini

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) recently released all its video from Celebration 1982 onto YouTube, bringing the footage online for public access for the first time, and plans to release all other Celebrations by 2022.

Celebration 1982 was the first recorded united gathering of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian nations and included 16 dance groups that performed over the course of three days.

The event was originally created to begin the journey of revitalizing Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures after decades of suppression through assimilation policies. Participants also wanted to show the world that their cultures had survived. Celebration would eventually become one of the largest gatherings in the state of Alaska with about 50 dance groups and thousands of visitors.

Every Celebration was filmed and photographed so that future generations would have a resource to reference on matters of cultural protocol, dances, songs, regalia, and Indigenous languages.

Most Celebration tapes before 2000 were filmed on U-matic and Betacam tapes, precursors to video cassettes, and were of professional quality. Celebrations in the 2000s were filmed on DVCPRO, an early form of digital tape, also of professional quality. However, all the tapes from past Celebrations in SHI’s archives are unwatchable because the format of these tapes is obsolete, and SHI does not have the equipment to play them.

U-matic (left) and Betacam (right) tapes that Celebration 1982 were recorded on. Photo by Lyndsey Brollini.

In 2015, SHI received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to digitize the 1980s Celebrations and make the footage accessible for the first time. SceneSavers, a digitization and archival company located in Kentucky, digitized all SHI’s footage from the 1980s Celebrations.

Altogether, there were 260 tapes sent to SceneSavers, and it was not a quick process to digitize these tapes.

“The U-matic tapes have to be cleaned first since they’re so old,” said Emily Pastore, archives and collections manager at SHI who is the lead on the Celebration digitization project. “They need to get cleaned, and then they have different types of hardware that will transfer analog film into digital files.”

The entire tape also had to be played through in real time in order to digitize, contributing to the lengthy time it took to receive the digitized files. Altogether, the tapes from Celebrations 1982-1988 equated to about 20 terabytes of digitized video.

Once SHI received the hard drives with the digital files from SceneSavers, another problem was discovered. Celebration 1982 was recorded on two cameras, providing two points of view, but the two sets of footage had never been integrated into one recording of the event. This meant every Celebration 1982 video had to be matched with another recording and then edited together to include both camera angles in a single recording of each performance.

Normally, two cameras can be synchronized easily through tools in video-editing programs, but these tools did not work on the Celebration 1982 files because every file’s audio wavelength was unique. Because of this, the two cameras had to be synced together manually and redone every time either of the cameras was turned off. This made editing the two cameras together a time-intensive process.

For years, the digitized footage of Celebration 1982 was available for the public but only accessible by in-person visits to SHI’s archives.

In addition to the problems with Celebration videos from the 1980s, footage from Celebrations 1990-2016 was also not easily accessible or viewable. The 739 tapes from Celebrations 1990-2002 cannot be viewed at SHI’s archives because we do not have the appropriate players. The 359 tapes from Celebrations 2004-2016 are viewable at SHI’s archives on DVD, another format on the cusp of becoming obsolete, but only in an unedited form. Viewing single dance group performances is not possible.

Celebration 2018 was posted to YouTube in 2019, making it the first Celebration to be posted in full online. Posting these videos helped SHI to secure a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the editing of the 1980s Celebration footage and the digitization of the rest of SHI’s Celebration tapes.

SHI used the same company that digitized Celebrations 1982-1988, SceneSavers, to digitize Celebrations 1990-2002. KTOO (Juneau’s local public TV station) is digitizing years 2004-2016.

The Celebration tapes from years 1990-2002 being boxed up to be sent to SceneSavers in Covington, Kentucky. Photos by Emily Pastore.

While waiting for the digitized footage to arrive from SceneSavers, SHI edited the Celebration 1982 footage, which took roughly four months to edit and post to YouTube.

It is now possible to view individual dance group performances, with both views integrated into on continuous video. SHI will continue to edit the videos of subsequent Celebrations to allow for viewing of individual dance groups. In addition to being posted to YouTube, all of the Celebration videos will be searchable in Proficio, SHI’s online archives and collections database. Through Proficio, users can search all of SHI’s archives and collections in one place, and when completed, every Celebration video will be searchable in this system with item level description and links to the YouTube videos.

(Proficio) (Tutorials on how to search Proficio)

SHI plans to release all past Celebrations onto YouTube by 2022 and is already in the process of editing the rest of the 1980s Celebrations and digitizing Celebrations from 1990-2016. “It’s really important that we’re getting this footage out,” said Pastore.

“It’s footage that’s kind of been lost to the community for decades. There’s people that remember being at these early Celebrations but most of them were pretty young or it’s just been a long time.”

David Katzeek, president of Sealaska Heritage Foundation (the previous name of Sealaska Heritage Institute) at the time, talking to Elders at Celebration 1982. Photo by Larry McNeil.

Looking at the footage from the first Celebration shows how the original goal of Celebration, to revitalize the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures, has not only been achieved, but surpassed.

“We can actually study the oratory and study the dances and see how things have changed over the years, how Celebration has grown,” said Pastore.

Some videos from Celebration 1982 have already been viewed hundreds of times, one received more than 1,000 views in less than a week. The reception from the release of Celebration 1982 has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’ve had some really great comments, some really nice comments,” said Pastore. “A lot of people mentioning how special it is to see these Elders, many of whom aren’t with us anymore. And it’s just been a really great way to connect in a time where you can’t really connect.”

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