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Posts Tagged ‘Film Archiving’

Kino Lorber’s “Pioneers of African-American Cinema”

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

The films of Spencer Williams, Oscar Micheaux, and other pioneering African-American filmmakers get a much deserved Blu-ray upgrade.

As Tambay A. Obenson reports in Shadow and Act: On Cinema of the African Diaspora in Indiewire, Kino Lorber is starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of one of the most ambitious projects involving the history of African-American cinema ever attempted, involving an enormous amount of research, restoration, and a wide range of films.

As Obenson writes, “considering conversations we’ve long had on this blog about efforts to collect the lot of ’black films’ from yesteryear (especially those considered ‘lost’ to history, unseen or rarely screened publicly) and making them widely-accessible in one complete set, digitally restored (HD) and remastered, this is one message, one campaign that S&A certainly approves of.

Coincidentally, starting this Friday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, kicks off its own groundbreaking series, ‘Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York, 1968 – 1986,’ programmed by Michelle Materre and Jake Perlin, and co-presented by Creatively Speaking. The below collection from Kino Lorber will cover the years 1914 to 1944.

I recall attending an Oscar Micheaux celebration some years ago, and in speaking to the curators, learned the challenges they faced in hunting down prints of as many of his films as they could get their hands on. It was interesting to learn of how scattered ownership of each was. Not rights specifically, but rather where each physically resided. For example, a print for one of his films (I can’t recall which title it was right now) was tracked down all the way in France, and, as I remember, it was the only one in existence. So this is all quite ambitious!”

As Kino Lorber’s comments on the project note, “renowned for its deluxe editions of masterpieces of world cinema, Kino Lorber will now pay tribute to the Pioneers of African-American Cinema with an ambitious four-disc collection. If the campaign achieves its primary goal, the series will include eight feature films and a variety of short films and fragments, a color booklet of photos and essays, and will be offered on Bluray and DVD.

All films will be newly mastered in high definition from film elements preserved by the country’s leading film archives, including The Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Silent films will be accompanied by a variety of original music scores. Some soundtracks will have a more contemporary sound, encouraging the viewer to watch these films with a fresh perspective. For the sake of historical accuracy, each silent film will also include a traditional score intended to replicate the 1920s moviegoing experience.

Curated by film historians Charles Musser and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, and presented by executive producer DJ Spooky, Pioneers of African-American Cinema will showcase not only the works of MIcheaux and Williams, but lesser-known filmmakers such as James and Eloyce Gist, as well as rarely-seen footage shot by writer Zora Neale Hurston.  It will also include selections of ‘race films’ made by white directors, such as Richard E. Norman and Frank Peregini . . .”

“Pioneers of African-American Cinema”  will be released February, 2016.

At DuArt Lab in New York, Thousands of “Orphan” Films

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

More proof, as if any were needed, of the fragility of film as an artistic medium.

As John Anderson writes in The New York Times, “the Midtown Manhattan building that houses DuArt, the premiere hatchery of American independent cinema for about 70 years, is 12 stories high. The elevator only goes to the 11th floor. To reach DuArt’s rooms of wonder, you need to take the stairs.

On the top floor, in one musty, institutional-green room after another, hundreds of film cans are stacked, floor to ceiling, each negative bearing the name of a long-gone production company, an obscure director or a title that may as well read ‘Dead End.’ This repository of broken dreams is also an orphanage, for movies awaiting adoption. Who made all these films? DuArt wonders the same thing.

With the rise of digital filmmaking and the subsequent demise of celluloid, DuArt in 2010 closed its photochemical division, which developed negatives and struck prints. At that point, DuArt had about 60,000 cans of film in its warren of vaults.

‘I have trouble throwing away film,’ the company’s chairman, Irwin Young, said. His father founded the company in 1922. ‘We never threw anything away. It’s because we were film people.’

Films by Woody Allen, James Ivory, Ang Lee, Gordon Parks, Tom DiCillo, Spike Lee, Susan Seidelman and more have been spoken for, but others remain unclaimed and the trail has gone cold on many of them, said Steve Blakely, a former DuArt vice president who has continued to track down filmmakers since 2010.”

Click here, or on the image above, to view the entire story; essential reading.

Don’t Throw Film Away – The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) 70th Anniversary Manifesto

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

“Motion picture film forms an indispensable part of our cultural heritage and a unique record of our history and our daily lives.

Film archives, both public and private, are the organizations responsible for acquiring, safeguarding, documenting and making films available to current and future generations for study and pleasure. The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) and its affiliates comprising more than 150 archives in over 77 countries have rescued over two million films in the last seventy years. However for some genres, geographical regions and periods of film history the survival rate is known to be considerably less than 10% of the titles produced.

On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, FIAF offers the world a new slogan: “DON’T THROW FILM AWAY”. If you are not sufficiently equipped to keep film yourself, then FIAF and its members will gladly help you locate an archive that is. Film is culturally irreplaceable, and can last a long time, especially in expert hands.

While fully recognizing that moving image technology is currently driven by the progress achieved in the digital field, the members of FIAF are determined to continue to acquire film and preserve it as film. This strategy is complementary to the development of efficient methods for the preservation of the digital-born heritage. FIAF affiliates urge all those who make and look after films, whether they be professionals or amateurs, and the government officials in all nations responsible for safeguarding the world cinema heritage, to help pursue this mission.

The slogan “DON’T THROW FILM AWAY” means that film must not be discarded, even though those who hold it may think they have adequately secured the content by transferring it onto a more stable film carrier or by scanning it into the digital domain at a resolution which apparently does not entail any significant loss of data. Film archives and museums are committed to preserve film on film because:

• A film is either created under the direct supervision of a filmmaker or is the record of an historical moment captured by a cameraman. Both types are potentially important artifacts and part of the world’s cultural heritage. Film is a tangible and “human-eye readable” entity which needs to be treated with great care, like other museum or historic objects.

• Although film can be physically and chemically fragile, it is a stable material that can survive for centuries, as long as it is stored and cared for appropriately. Its life expectancy has already proved much longer than moving image carriers like videotape that were developed after film. Digital information has value only if it can be interpreted, and digital information carriers are also vulnerable to physical andchemical deterioration while the hardware and software needed for interpretation are liable to obsolescence.

• Film is currently the optimal archival storage medium for moving images. It is one of the most standardized and international products available and it remains a medium with high resolution potential. The data it contains does not need regular migration nor does its operating system require frequent updating.

• The film elements held in archive vaults are the original materials from which all copies are derived. One can determine from them whether a copy is complete or not. The more digital technology is developed, the easier it will be to change or even arbitrarily alter content. Unjustified alteration or unfair distortion, however, can always be detected by comparison with the original film provided it has been properly stored.

Never throw film away, even after you think something better comes along. No matter what technologies emerge for moving images in the future, existing film copies connect us to the achievements and certainties of the past. FILM PRINTS WILL LAST – DON’T THROW FILM AWAY.”

You can read more on FIAF’s essential work by clicking here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at wdixon1@unl.edu or wheelerwinstondixon.com

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