Peter Spence

The Archive


Output: Digital or Visual Media

This film is the result of an enquiry that tested the notion: is it possible to make a narrative documentary film according to principles of three-act structure entirely using pre-existing archive materials? Furthermore, would such a film still be valid as a project of historical enquiry?

The film investigates the story of David Drucker, an American lawyer and communist sympathiser who was the subject of FBI surveillance from the late 1920s to early 1970s, and also the grandfather of the researcher’s wife.

Primary research of the extensive archive of film footage, audio recordings and an FBI file identified numerous moments of drama and conflict in Drucker’s story from which a cause and effect narrative could be created. Several versions of the film were sent for feedback from a focus group with a final cut after 15 re-edits. However, the process had presented a further question: to what extent did the film-maker’s manipulation of the archive materials according to principles of narrative story-telling compromise their historical integrity?

The editing strategy employed in The Archive deliberately seeks to challenge a preconceived hierarchy where ‘found’ family archive is regarded as of less historical significance than the ‘official’ archive of government records (Baron, 2014). Through the juxtaposition of on-screen FBI memos with audio recordings of Drucker, representing contradictory accounts of events, the film seeks to give voice to a previously un-heard subject of FBI investigation. And in doing this the film offers a new understanding of this particular moment in history, where previously only the official view would have prevailed. Further dissemination of this research can be found in the supporting portfolio ‘Re-considering History and Narrative through The Archive (2018)’.

The Archive has been presented at Queens University Belfast (AntiComm, 2019) with introductory paper. International film festivals include Sheffield Doc/Fest, DOC NYC, Moscow Jewish.

Research Output

Film-maker Q&A at DOC NYC

Due to restrictions, this project does not have a full submission available to view. However, please feel free to check out other projects from this author.

Research Method

The Archive is based on extensive research of the Drucker family archive including several reels of 16mm and 8mm film as well as photographs. The other key visual component of the film is a 2000 page FBI surveillance file on David Drucker.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

Due to copyright, privacy, or agreements, the full output for this project submission is not available. Please contact us to request a copy to be sent to you.