In our increasingly digital world, where analog film preservation has become all but endangered, let the struggles of acclaimed Cuban filmmaker Leon Ichaso be a call to arms to preserve your negative prints. An honoree at the Queens World Film Festival this week, Ichaso’s esteemed career has run the gamut from Cuban indies specializing in urban realism (“El Super”) to cable television miniseries on ShowTime (“Sleeper Cell”) and A&E (“The Cleaner”). Unfortunately for the 67-year-old director, not even success could guarantee the preservation of his films’ analog prints.
As discussed in a recent New York Times article entitled “Filmmaker Won’t Weep for the Cuba He Left Behind,” a handful of Ichaso’s indies from the past three decades are no longer available due to a lack of preservation and archiving. This fate has met both his 1979 breakthrough debut feature “El Super,” whose negatives were lost during a film lab fire, and follow-up “Crossover Dreams,” whose negatives were never archived in the first place and are now completely missing as a result.
No wonder the films which have been properly preserved come with great relief for Ichaso. The negatives for his 1996 drama “Azúcar Amarga” were recently found by archivists and the film screened at the Museum of Moving Image on Wednesday. “There is a sense that the film is not lost,” Ichaso told The Times of learning about the movie’s rediscovery. “That it is resting peacefully somewhere. And that, to me, gives me a little bit of peace, knowing it is being preserved.”
“Azúcar Amarga” was only discovered thanks to IndieCollect, a preservation group whose mission is to document and preserve for posterity the work of American independent filmmakers. The collective identifies and catalogs film negatives and works with all five of the major American film archives, including the Library of Congress, as well as with many specialty archives, to find homes for thousands of American indie films. They have already placed the negatives of 3,000 films in archives like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and hopes to index another 10,000 titles by year’s end.
IndieCollect was able to find Ichaso’s film thanks to DuArt in Manhattan. The film lab has been operating since 1922 and houses around 60,000 cans of film negatives in its archival vaults. The more glossy prints from directors such as Woody Allen, Ang Lee and Spike Lee are in good shape, but most prints remain unclaimed, waiting to be found by groups like IndieCollect and preserved in proper archives. Fortunately for indie filmmakers, both IndieCollect and DuArt will continue to locate and archive film negatives for as long as donations to the organizations keep coming in.
Filmmakers interested in preserving their film negatives can visit the IndieCollect website linked above.