Posts Tagged ‘American history’

If You Love Film Preservation, Thank This Man

September 22, 2011

Despite all the craziness surrounding this summer’s debt ceiling negotiations and the subsequent downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, not every bureaucrat in Washington is to be viewed with scorn. Case in point, ever heard of the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF)? Someone in Washington was instrumental in establishing it in 1997 and it is a copyright lawyer named Eric J. Schwartz. His love of films lead to him helping to establish this foundation, whose mission is to “preserve American films and improve film access for study, education, and exhibition” The foundation doesn’t just preserve films from Hollywood, it also preserves films ranging from an early talkie featuring President Calvin Coolidge  from 1925 to a collection of home movies taken in the 1930’s from the Japanese-American community of Los Angeles.

I’m sure many of you are asking why American tax dollars are going to support something like this when so many people are either out of work or just barely getting by on whatever work they can get. Well the answer to that is two-fold:

1. According to the NFPF’s website, “Every penny of these federal funds goes out to the field and we raise operational support from other sources.”

2. Historical preservation isn’t something you do when times are good. It is something you do all the time, because you never know when you will find something worth preserving.

Without archivists and a foundation that supports their work, these films mentioned and other would be sitting in a closet, somewhere, never to be seen. An even worse scenario is that many films would be lost forever. You see, movies made prior to the 1950’s were filmed using nitrate film and over time, nitrate yellows the film base, oxides the silver image, and can, under certain conditions, spontaneously combust. All of which would end up damaging such a film beyond repair. In fact, only 20 percent of American films from the silent era survive and half of the films made prior to 1950 survive. So, a foundation like NFPF is necessary to prevent nitrate based and all films from being lost forever.

Films are meant to be seen, not locked up in a vault. Motion pictures have become the storyteller for the collective. If the story is lost, so is a part of our history, which is why films need to preserved for future generations. Without people like Schwartz and the archivists at the foundation, who knows how many films would be either stuck in a storeroom, tossed in a trashcan or  just plain unseen and forgotten. So, thanks to Eric J. Schwartz and the folks at National Film Preservation Foundation, they are saving pieces of American history, one frame at a time.