Dial History (1997) and The Archive

Archive material is an important narrative resource for films and filmmakers, especially as some documentaries filmmakers usually use archives and the footage to present some historical facts in the film to audiences.

 “Traditionally the archive was a place for storage, preservation, classification and access” (Røssaak, 2010b: 11).

Filmmakers use archive material to link the present, the past and the future to recount a period of historical time or disrupt temporality and be media archaeological.

“Media archaeology has never been only a purely academic endeavour, but, from its early phases in the 1980s and 1990s, has also been a field in which media artists have been to use themes, ideas and inspiration from past media too order to investigate what the newness in ‘new media’ means”(Jussi, 2012: 2).


For example, Dial History is a film that incorporated archival footage and this is a media archaeology archival film. The director, Johan Grimonprez, collected some footages that are about the history of airplane hijacking. According to the director, “Dial History narrative is based on an imaginary dialogue between a terrorist and a novelist where the writer contends that the terrorist has hijacked his role within society. The film’s opening line, taken from Mao, describes the skyjacker as a protagonist. Interspersing fact and fiction, Grimonprez said that the use of archival footage to create “short-circuits in order to critique situation”(Bernard, 1998).

Archival material in this film is not only to record a historic time. Grimonprez  used some original video sequences to reveal the theme of the film. The original video footage records plane hijackings in this film and the director relied on the footage to describe politics and terrorism in a current global context. Although the director used these archival materials, filmmakers just organized the original footage to reflect some new ideas. The use of archival material should not be the limitation of time and filmmakers can use freely montage to meet the requirement of the plot and reflect the theme.

Written By Dandan Li


Jussi, P. (2012). Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and the New in: What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. 1-18

Bernard, C. (1998). An interview with Johan Grimonprez in:Supermarket History. Available from

http://www.johangrimonprez.be/main/Film_DIALHISTORY_Story_4.htm [Accessed 27 February 2017]

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