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Academy Boosts Film Preservation with Film-to-Film Initiative

Academy Boosts Film Preservation with Film-to-Film Initiative

In a welcome move in response to the takeover of digital technology and the reduced availability of film stock, the Academy is extending the reach of their film preservation efforts. Their $2 million Film-To-Film project will accelerate the work of their Academy Film Archive to both acquire and create new archival film masters and prints from at-risk elements, including films as recent as the 1990s.

“This is a moment of great transition for our industry,” says Academy CEO, Dawn Hudson, “and we are responding to the urgency of that moment. By increasing our preservation efforts now, we are building a vital pipeline of films and film elements that we will not only safeguard, but also make available for audiences well into the future.”

Among the initiative’s films to be preserved are “Sleuth” (1972; four Academy Award nominations); “The Cardinal” (1963; six nominations including Best Director and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Otto Preminger and John Huston, respectively); and “Cock of the Air” (1932; a comedy produced by Howard Hughes prior to the advent of the Production Code Administration).

Short films to be preserved include Saul Bass’s landmark “Notes on the Popular Arts” (1977) as well as four comedy shorts made between 1933-35. Silent films include Douglas Fairbanks’ “The Mark of Zorro” (1920), Mary Philbin’s debut in “The Blazing Trail” (1921) and Edwin S. Porter’s “A Famous Duel” (1911), as well as Documentary shorts “The Odds Against” (1966), “Naked Yoga” (1975), and the Oscar winner “Young at Heart” (1987).

Experimental works by the likes of Stan Brakhage, Will Hindle, Nina Menkes and Penelope Spheeris will be preserved, as will reels of home movies from the collections of Steve McQueen, Esther Williams, William Wyler, Sam Fuller and James Wong Howe.

Film-To-Film has also acquired a selection of 35mm prints including “42nd Street” (1933), “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), “Barry Lyndon” (1975), “Grease” (1978) and “The Princess Bride” (1987).

More details on the initiative below:

Until recently, the mass production of film stock required for theatrical exhibition made this resource widely available and affordable for preservation work. However, as the industry continues its rapid transition to digital technology, film prints and the film stock required to create them are becoming increasingly scarce. The Academy’s Film-to-Film project is intended to take advantage of the remaining availability of celluloid stock to preserve a diverse slate of important works on film. At the same time, the initiative also ensures that high quality film elements will exist for easier, more cost-effective digitization in the future.

“Film-to-Film represents an extraordinary commitment to preserving our film heritage on film, but it’s also a part of our digital future,” noted Academy Film Archive director Mike Pogorzelski. “Once the industry has resolved the challenges still posed by digital preservation, including the lack of standard file formats and continuous technology migration, we will be able to scan these films without relying on brittle, fragile, or deteriorated elements.”

Between 1992 and the launch of the Film-to-Film project, the Academy Film Archive had preserved approximately 1,000 titles. Under Film-to-Film initiative, which began in 2011, the Archive has preserved or acquired about 300 more, including feature films, documentaries, experimental works, shorts and the home movies of Hollywood luminaries. A number of the initiative’s preservation projects are being conducted in partnership with other institutions, including the UCLA Film &Television Archive and the British Film Institute, as well as other archives in countries including Hungary, Norway, Sweden and Japan.

Dedicated to the preservation, restoration, documentation, exhibition and study of motion pictures, the Academy Film Archive is home to one of the most diverse and extensive motion picture collections in the world, including the personal collections of such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, Cecil B. DeMille, George Stevens, Fred Zinnemann, Sam Peckinpah and Jim Jarmusch.

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When I ask techies how they're gonna preserve works made or distributed on digital formats when those formats change every few years, they say, "It's easy, just keep backing it up." Yeah, right. Who's gonna be in charge of that? Who's gonna make the decisions of what gets backed up and what doesn't? Who's gonna REMEMBER to back everything up? And in the case of another inevitable format war, which format? The end result is that much of the visual documentation of the 21st century will be lost to future historians.

1000 years from now (or much sooner, I imagine), when our descendants dig through the rubble to explore the history of their ancestors, they'll be able to pick up cans of film, look at the images on 35mm and 16mm film, inspect the squiggly lines on one side and the sprocket holes on the other and figure out how to reverse-engineer a film projector with sound. When they look at tape (rolls of ribbon?), discs (beer coasters?), graphics cards (guitar picks?) and computer hard drives (???), they won't know what the hell those things were.

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