By Ron Merk
While I may be preaching to the choir at Indieplex, I think it’s important to reach out to our colleagues in in the film community with an idea that I think is going to help save the tens of millions of feet of film, important documents of our culture and history, that are at risk of being lost to us forever. We all are painfully aware that once they are gone, they can never be retrieved, and this evidence of who we were will be gone.
National, university and private film archives, the keepers of this history, and all those interested in film preservation do not have the financial resources to save this material. So, our foundation has created an initiative which we call Preservation Project Partnerships.
Our idea is a simple one. Shift the emphasis from film preservation per se to subject matter, itself, being preserved. Find specific subject matter to be preserved and made available for screening and use, and then focus on the population with an strong interest in that subject matter who still then step up to fund and support the project, whether it be individuals, corporations, government agencies or sponsors.
In short, we need the public to get excited about being the Preservation Project Partners. We intend to bring this message to the people, and the make the public a part of this project in a big way. Only with the general public involved is there any chance of saving all the material that’s in danger of being lost.
In the past 18 months, The Metro Theatre Center Foudation, which I co-founded, has acquired more than 200 collection of home movies, mostly from the United States, but also from overseas. A few of the films we have located and will preserve are color films of the Eisenhower inauguration and the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn featuring President Eisenhower and the children rollicking together, a rare home movie of Spencer Tracy on a publicity tour for his film Quick Millions, in 1931, a portion of which was shot in the pre-Kodachrome color film, Kodacolor. We have also located some amazing color films of Havana, Cuba in the 1940s and 50s, the “walk off” by Jack Paar from The Tonight Show and Robert Kennedy in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the mid-60s, as well as unique footage of London, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Miami, Havana, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Istanbul, Paris, and Spain, all taken more then 50-60 years ago, capturing the zeitgeist of the time, and the culture of these far flung places.
All of this material, and much more, has languished in private collections, attics and garages, just waiting for re-discovery. These are just a few of the hundreds of 16mm, 8mm and Super 8 films that are now in our collection waiting for the resources to make them live again. Our major focus is on home movies. They are rare and unique records of a people, places and specific times in our history. I like to call them films without guile or agendas. They are also an accessible idea to the public. Everyone makes home movie even today although cell phones and digital cameras have replaced 8mm and 16mm movies cameras.
Using best practices of preservation, under the we will create both film preservation masters and digital versions for easy access study and use. Duplicates of the completed projects will be housed in established film archives on both the East and West Coasts of the United States to further assure their care, safety and continued existence.
We are currently completing an inventory of our holdings, in a File Maker Pro database, complete with tags for subject matter and other details, including still photos created from actual film frames, and we intend to make the list accessible to people in the preservation community, as well as those of us who license and use stock footage for our projects.
To further demonstrate the economic value of this material in the present, its value for the future, and its value as a resource to create films incorporating the footage, access will be given to selected filmmakers to create “new works” from the material, such as documentaries, experimental, poetry films or music videos. The sales or proceeds from these films will add to the cash flow of the overall project, and allow us to preserve even more films. It also points out that these films are more than just home movies or stock footage, but the building blocks of new derivative works.
There is still time to save our precious film heritage, but time is catching up with these important documents of history, like a tsunami rushing toward the beach. We need to act now. We need to act decisively. We need to reach way beyond the film preservation and film communities to the world outside of our archives, and pull in the resources that will ultimately make it possible to save all those reels of film and video sitting on our archive shelves, to document them and make them accessible to and retrievable to future generations.
Please help us get the word out about this amazing initiative, and if you’re in a position to help with the expenses, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the foundation using PayPal. Time is the enemy and soon, much of this material will no longer exist. Please don’t let time run out for our collective history and culture. Once it’s gone, it can never be retrieved.
To celebrate your involvement, we have created some wonderful T-shirts and buttons. T-shirts (preservation warrior uniforms) will be sent to those making a $50 donation, and the buttons (which are badges of honor) for a $25 pledge.
It’s so easy to help by just clicking on the PayPal icon.