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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 10:58PM   |  7 comments
Audiotape Decomposition

Blog posting written by Jan-Christopher Horak, director, UCLA Film & Television Archive

While the NEA discontinued funding moving image archives in the early 1990s, other organizations took up the challenge. As early as the late 1980s, the American Film Institute’s campaign “Nitrate Won’t Wait” had increased public consciousness about the need to save and preserve the precious moving image heritage. Through theNational Film Preservation Act of 1988, Congress established a National Film Preservation Board and created a National Film Registry (25 titles are added each year by the Librarian of Congress), which identified ‘National film treasures”. The initial impetus for the Act was the concern over the commercial treatment of classic films, including re-editing to fit television time slots, panning and scanning to fit the tv screen, and electronic colorization of black and white materials.

The National Film Preservation Board consists of appointed representatives from virtually all of the medium’s professional organizations, including the Society of Cinema and Media Studies, the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, and the National Society of Film Critics. The reauthorization of the Board in 1992 asked the Library of Congress to complete a study of the state of film preservation, Film Preservation 1993, which in turn led to the Founding of the National Film Preservation Foundation in 1999.

The NFPF is now funding film preservation projects at a national level, both through direct government monies and grants from private foundations and companies. While the National Film Registry’s titles are overwhelmingly culled from mainstream Hollywood’s output, the NFPF mandate is to fund only so-called orphan films, i.e. films which were never copyrighted or have entered the public domain. As a result, many previously marginalized films and film genres, including amateur films, industrials, educational films, medical films, avant-garde, and silent films are now being preserved.

The 1990s also saw a number of private foundations become involved in the preservation of films, including The Film Foundation (TFF, founded by Martin Scorsese and other film directors in 1992), and the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI), both of whom have shown a preference for classic Hollywood cinema, although TFF supports avant-garde film preservation through the NFPF, and PHI has funded the preservation of third world titles. Meanwhile, the major film studios, including Sony Entertainment, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Universal have redoubled their own preservation efforts, at least of materials on which they own copyright or which they are planning to re-release in digital formats.

In 1997, the Librarian of Congress commissioned another study to look at the state of television preservation, Television and Video Preservation 1997. A Report on the Current State of American Television and Video Preservation. Seven years later, the National Television and Video Preservation Foundation was finally established in 2004, albeit without the participation of Congress or the Library of Congress, which had initially funded the NFPF. Instead, Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) and Jim Lindner, a video preservationist, have made initial cash donations, while video laboratories have offered in-kind services. The National Television and Video Preservation Foundation (NTVPF) has secured preservation services from preservation sponsors which has lead to the preservation of ca. 35 titles. (to be continued...)



Regarding the actual media: does the NFPF primarily favor film or video? I expect film, since the medium itself is physically broken down by time. It is (if I'm correct) actually more difficult and expensive to properly archive video because of the nature of hard disks which die in time.

I suppose I'm asking if the medium of a film helps to determine its likeliness to be archived?

I'm looking forward to the next installment of this post on film preservation. Do you know which, if any, of these private or public foundations are working to make some of this material more accessible to general audiences via the internet? I'm thinking something like the U.S. Library of Congress's "American Memory Collection" <>;, which makes available some of the Edison Company films. They might be digitized in highly compressed files, altering the frame rate and image quality, but they do provide a sense of this material.

The NFPF only funds film preservation, not works originating in video. That is what the NVPF is supposed to take care of, but that organization is still seriously underfunded, and is not funded through an appropriation of Congress to the Library of Congress, as is NFPF.

There are efforts t get materials out into the public. The last installment will take us up to the ever fluctuating present. Yes, as I noted a few posts agi, Archives must be transparent and on the net.


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I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this content together.

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