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5 Key Takeaways from the Documentary Film Preservation Summit

5 Key Takeaways from the Documentary Film Preservation Summit

Archiving documentary footage and films may not be a sexy issue, but in this digital age, it’s an increasingly critical one. To help call attention to it, the IDA and DOC NYC are hosting a two-day Documentary Preservation Summitwhich began March 31 and continues on April 1.

The speakers at the summit include Academy Award winning directors D.A. Pennebaker (“Monterey Pop,” “The War Room”) and Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA,” “American Dream”); producer-director Warrington Hudlin, the founder of the Black Filmmaker Foundation; Margaret Bodde, the executive director of The Film Foundation, and Sandra Schulberg, the head of the IndieCollect film documentation and preservation campaign.

Award-winning independent filmmaker Eli Brown is live blogging every panel exclusively for The D-Word, the worldwide online community for documentary filmmakers. documentary industry web site. You can read the full coverage here, but you can find some excerpts below. Note that to access the entire discussion you must be a “professional” D-Word member. If you feel you qualify for professional status, you can register here (it’s free).

READ MORE: DOC NYC and IDA to Launch Documentary Film Preservation Summit

Thom Powers, DOC NYC Artistic Director, believed that there wasn’t enough cross-communication between archivists and documentary filmmakers and he wanted to bridge that gap. There are other conferences that deal with this and there is a lot of activity and interest happening around archives and saving film (Look out for the Orphan Film Symposium which happens every two years), but there isn’t enough. There needs to be more awareness and education among filmmakers, according to Powers – especially among documentary filmmakers, who are less likely to have another umbrella organization giving the support.

This gathering is different, according to Powers, because it doesn’t just focus on the preservation of physical materials. The second issue is the legal hurdles that get thrown up in between having the existence of a film and the film finding its audience. The third part is making sure that film is accessible to an audience.

Here are some key takeaways from the conversation:

1. Filmmakers have to become their own archivists: 

“We have to become our own archivist. This is a lesson that I’ve learned, painfully, myself. t’s a parallel to our own lives and careers as filmmakers. We never focused on ‘how do we save our own movies?’ That was one big thing that I tried to push for. Very belatedly, I have become passionate about film preservation. Hearing the stories of your own films that need saving. I’m betting most people in this room have similar stories. Barbara Kopple can’t put her hands on the negative for “American Dream.” – Sandra Schulberg, IndieCollect

2. Consider crowdfunding in order to fund preservation projects:

“Every restoration project that we’ve seen has been successful. I think Kickstarter is a great platform to serve as a proof of concept. If you have the rights to do a restoration, you can put it out to the world and say how much it will cost and if you have an audience you can get them to back it….One success story is Milestone Films’ ‘Portrait of Jason’ — they raised $26,000 to restore Shirley Clarke’s documentary.” – George Schmalz, Kickstarter

3. There are potential commercial options for your old films:

“We have talked with a few filmmakers about bringing on archives of filmmakers onto the site. I think the idea to think about is contextual placement. The web allows you to galvanize different pockets of different audiences and drive them to one place where they can all get together. You can do that with a film in distribution. I stumbled upon ‘Nanook of the North’ that was put up on the Vimeo site.” – Jeremy Boxer, Vimeo

4. Your old films might find new life:

“The essence is that when you have your films digitized and online and ready and able to be reactive as well. Let’s say a news story comes out that is a film in the archive, you can work with different news outlets that can drive back to the film. You can have a number of different clips — it’s like virtual lemonade stands that you can have in different locations. It can be about subject matter.” – Jeremy Boxer, Vimeo

5. But beware of clearance issues:

“[In one example], we had something with all of the rights secured and we would still get threatening letters from the composer of that film, even though they didn’t have the rights. So, having the contract is important. You’re not only dealing with contracts and rights, you’re also dealing with the people and their emotions. Contracts, rights and clearances are another, and dealing with the people is a third thing that is very important. When we acquire a film, we contact everyone involved with the film so they know what’s happening. We did ‘Killer of Sheep’ and the music clearances on that took five years. It can get very messy and it can get very troubling.” – Dennis Doros, Milestone Films

Read the full conversation here.

READ MORE: Help Save Cinema History with Film Preservation Kickstarter Campaigns

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