How We Save Movies
25 ways the Academy Film Archive has made an impact in the past 25 years.
In 1991, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences made a decision that impacted the entire history of film.
That year, we formally established our Academy Film Archive with a mission to preserve, restore, document, exhibit, and study the art of motion pictures.
Originally founded with just three staff members, the Archive has grown to include more than 30 archival professionals who manage a collection of more than 190,000 inventoried items from 2,000 separate sources.
It’s also supported more than 100 internships, enriching the film archival community and serving as a steward for nearly 1 million pounds of film.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, here are 25 things you should know about the Archive, its work, and its impact on motion pictures.
1. We play a key role in international film preservation.
In 1992, just a year after of being founded, the Academy formalized its intention to serve as a preeminent film archive by joining the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF).
Since then, the Academy Film Archive has played a key role in this international organization by making major contributions to FIAF policies and guidelines, including the FIAF Cataloging Manual.
Next year, the Academy Film Archive and the UCLA Film & Television Archive will co-host the FIAF Congress, the first to be held in Los Angeles in more than 20 years.
2. We preserve experimental films.
Of the 1,000+ films the Academy Film Archive has preserved in its collection, many were made by avant-garde and experimental filmmakers.
Most notably, the Academy has preserved 40+ films by the pioneering prolific filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Other filmmaker collections include those of Suzan Pitt and Pat O’Neill, both of whom will be celebrated in the Academy’s upcoming Archival Revival series.
3. We share our film prints with the world.
Since the early years of the Academy’s founding, loaning film prints has been integral to our mission.
In the past 25 years, over 5,500 prints have been loaned. In total, the Academy Film Archive has prepped, inspected, and shipped roughly 15,000 reels to 187 cities in 35 countries.
The Academy Film Archive’s loans program makes its conservation and preservation efforts accessible to archives, theaters and audiences around the world.
4. We preserved the legacy of Satyajit Ray.
In 1992, after Satyajit Ray received an Honorary Academy Award, the Academy discovered many of the legendary Bengali director’s films were in dire need of preservation.
Since then, the Academy Film Archive has preserved 18 features and one short film (Two, 1964) by the master filmmaker. The Academy Film Archive’s Satyajit Ray Collection also holds rare 35mm subtitled prints of many of Ray’s films.
Here’s the story of our work to save his Apu trilogy.
5. We have the world’s largest trailer collection.
The Packard Humanities Institute Collection, held at the Academy Film Archive, is the largest known collection of theatrical trailers on film.
Processing of this massive collection, which consists of more than 60,000 items, began at the Academy in January 2010. Advertisements, theatrical snipes, film excerpts, television spots, and public service announcements are included in the massive collection.
6. We win awards.
As an organization that gives out awards, the Academy only accepts awards on rare occasions. This past year has been a landmark year for the Academy Film Archive.
In May, the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation received the FOCAL International Award for Best Archive Restoration and Preservation for our work restoring Marcel Ophuls’ The Memory of Justice (1976).
This past November, the Association of Moving Image Archivists awarded the Academy with its inaugural Keystone award for its ongoing support of film preservation. The Memory of Justice will screen at the Academy on September 25. For more information, check Oscars.org in the coming month.
7. We rediscovered an alternate ending to Saul Bass’s only feature film.
From more than a dozen pallets of film material representing a half-century long career, one of the most exciting rediscoveries in the Saul Bass Collection was the forgotten original ending to the only feature film he directed, Phase IV (1974).
This montage, inspired in part by 2001: A Space Odyssey (directed by Bass’ frequent collaborator, Stanley Kubrick), was only shown in test screenings before being deemed too abstract.
In 2013, the Academy Film Archive in cooperation with Paramount Pictures, created a DCP of this sequence that continues to find new, enthusiastic audiences in domestic and international screenings.
8. We provide a home for abandoned film collections.
With film labs closing or transitioning to digital services, two of the Academy Film Archive’s biggest collections have come from companies discontinuing their storage of film elements.
Since early 2013, the Academy Film Archive has received over 1,000 boxes of picture and sound negatives from DuArt Film & Video and over 75 pallets of material from Deluxe, by far the largest collection held at the Academy Film Archive.
Saving these orphan moving images will ensure the bulk of the collections — which include significant independent features, documentaries, student films, industrials, shorts, animation, and foreign films — will be conserved for future generations.
9. We restored “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.”
In 2011, the Academy Film Archive completed the extensive restoration of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a 1943 film by the British writing-directing-producing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
The film created much controversy during its initial release in Great Britain in 1943, and it did not reach the United States until 1945, when it was cut to 148 minutes and then to 93 minutes.
The digital restoration of the film to its original running time of 163 minutes was supervised by Oscar-winning film editor Thelma Schoonmaker Powell alongside Film Foundation founder Martin Scorsese. Restoration work was completed by the Academy Film Archive in association with the BFI, ITV Studios Global Entertainment Ltd., and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by The Material World Charitable Foundation, the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, Cinema per Roma Foundation, and The Film Foundation.
10. We have a huge collection of World War II-era short films.
One of the largest collections of World War II-era short films held outside government archives, the Academy War Film Collection contains more than 230 unique titles.
Produced mostly by Hollywood studios on behalf of the U.S. government, the films were designed to educate, encourage, and inspire the home front. The Academy Film Archive has restored more than 50 films in the collection, many of which had not been seen by audiences in more than 70 years.
11. We are preserving Roger Corman’s legacy.
Considered one of the most influential figures in the film industry, Roger Corman’s rich filmography plays a significant role in independent cinema.
The New Horizons Collection at the Academy Film Archive includes more than 200 pre-print items representing more than 50 essential Corman features and related trailers produced both before and after the formation of New Horizons, which serves as the home of films from the prolific genre producer and distributor.
12. We restored Richard Williams’ original version of “The Thief and the Cobbler.”
In most cases, the Academy Film Archive strives to preserve films as they were originally seen in theaters. In the case of The Thief and the Cobbler, however, the Academy Film Archive restored the film to Richard Williams’ original vision.
As Williams’ beloved project was never completed and released as he had first intended, the Academy Film Archive restored the film in 2013 using an original and complete workprint. The restoration was supervised by Williams and Imogen Sutton and is now available to screen to audiences around the world.
13. We saved the Technicolor Reference Collection.
The Technicolor Reference Collection consists of several thousand original prints of films produced in the dye-transfer printing process, which were kept by Technicolor Labs to be used as a color timing reference for future print orders.
In many cases, these color reference reels are the only surviving indication of how a specific film originally looked when it was first released, as distribution prints from the era often no longer exist or exhibit fading.
This rare collection has proved to be an invaluable resource for film archivists, researchers and preservationists. This summer, see an original 35mm Technicolor print of Singin’ in the Rain (1952) in the Academy’s Archival Revival series.
14. We are preserving Japanese American history.
Within a year of its founding, the Academy Film Archive began working with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) to conserve its vast home movie collection.
With a collection of thousands of reels of home movies, the Academy Film Archive now holds more than 300 JANM home movies and has preserved 11 films, including historic footage filmed inside World War II Japanese American internment camps.
This invaluable collection brings to life the culture, history and daily activities of Japanese Americans.
15. We restored “Portrait of Jason.”
Long considered a significant cinéma vérité film, Portrait of Jason, directed by Shirley Clarke and featuring Jason Holliday, portrayed a gay African American hustler in conversation with the filmmaker, shot over the span of 12 hours.
Despite its significance, it had not been preserved until 2013, when Milestone Films, in collaboration with the Academy Film Archive, restored the film. In 2015, the film was named to the National Film Registry. The Academy Film Archive has also restored Clarke’s Academy Award winning documentary Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (1963).
16. We are preserving the Nicholas Brothers home movies.
In 2015, the Academy Film Archive received more than 10,000 feet of 16mm home movies from the family of Fayard Nicholas.
These remarkable films, documenting dance legends the Nicholas Brothers and listed on the National Film Registry, span three decades and feature the brothers performing around the world, rehearsing and enjoying leisure time with family and friends.
The Academy Film Archive is working to preserve all of these historic home movies, with 2,500 feet already completed.
17. We have 30+ of our preserved titles on the National Film Registry.
Every year, the National Film Registry names 25 films to highlight a range of significant American films and to increase awareness to their preservation.
All told, the Academy has preserved more than 30 titles listed on the National Film Registry, including In the Heat of the Night (1967), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Frank Film (1973), Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980), and Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963). Notable on the list and preserved by the Academy is Marion Wong’s The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916–1917), the earliest known Chinese American film.
18. We established the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood.
In 2000, the Academy purchased what is now known as the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, named after silent film actress Mary Pickford, a founding member of the Academy.
In 2002, the Academy Film Archive moved into the Pickford Center, allowing for the consolidation of its growing film holdings into the new state-of-the-art vaults built specifically for moving images. This move marks an important step in developing the Academy Film Archive’s staff and expanding the Academy’s preservation efforts.
The purchase of the building marked the second time the Academy embarked on an adaptive reuse of an architecturally significant building in Southern California.
In 1991, the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library moved into the City of Beverly Hills Water Treatment Plant. The Academy’s Museum will open in 2018 in the former May Company Building on Wilshire Boulevard.
19. We transported 10,000 reels of nitrate film.
Nitrate film base, used almost exclusively until the 1950s in the motion picture industry, is highly flammable (see Inglourious Basterds).
Because of its relatively unstable nature, the transport and storage of this film requires training and care. In 2000, 20th Century Fox entrusted the Academy Film Archive with more than 10,000 reels of nitrate film.
Trucked from New Jersey, the collection accounts for nearly 85% of the Academy’s nitrate holdings and includes trailers for lost movies, unique tinted and toned prints, and pre-print elements.
20. We completed the first live-action digital restoration of a feature film.
In collaboration with Sony Pictures, the Academy embarked on the first live-action digital restoration of a feature film: Frank Capra’s The Matinee Idol (1928).
The Matinee Idol was originally considered lost until a 35mm print was discovered at the Cinémathèque Française and scanned at Sony Pictures. The restoration, completed in 1999, marked an important milestone in the use of digital tools in film preservation.
21. We restored the Akira Kurosawa classic “Rashomon.”
Recipient of an Honorary Academy Award and nominated for an Academy Award for Art Direction, Rashomon is widely considered to be one of the most significant films in moving image history.
In 2008, the Academy embarked on an ambitious digital restoration with The National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.
With funding provided by Kadokawa Culture Promotion Foundation and The Film Foundation, the restoration has ensured that film audiences around the world will experience the film as it was originally intended.
22. We preserved landmark silent film “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.”
Recipient of three Academy Awards at the 1st Academy Awards, F.W. Murnau’s landmark silent film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, was preserved in collaboration with 20th Century Fox in 2004.
Sunrise is the only film to receive an Academy Award for the distinction of being a “Unique and Artistic Picture.”
In the time since the Academy Film Archive has been established, the Academy Film Archive is proud to have worked with every Hollywood studio on major preservation projects.
23. We preserve as many films as possible on motion picture film.
In 2011, the Academy Film Archive embarked on an ambitious program — Project Film to Film — with the goal to preserve as many films as possible on motion picture film, currently the most stable preservation medium for moving images.
As the film industry transitioned to digital, the Academy Film Archive recognized an important need to preserve films on film. Film prints made by the Academy, many of which screen around the world, will also be shown in the Academy’s future Museum.
Though digital tools have offered tremendous flexibility for digital restoration, with many films in dire need of photochemical preservation, the Academy stepped in to create as many prints and preservation elements on film as possible. The Academy’s commitment to film continues as we balance the use of digital restoration techniques with important photochemical practices.
24. We’ve found films all over the world.
In 2009, then Academy Film Archive preservationist Brian Meacham traveled to New Zealand on vacation. On a visit to the New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound, Meacham learned the country often served as the last stop for exhibition prints in the 1910s and 1920s.
The revelation that the New Zealand Archive had more than 170 American titles in its collection resulted in a multi-year collaboration with American archives, including the Academy and the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF).
The Academy Film Archive is proud to have contributed to all six Treasures DVD sets released by the NFPF, including the set resulting from the project: Treasures New Zealand.
25. We preserved the work of Gus Van Sant.
Academy Award nominated director Gus Van Sant is widely acclaimed for his feature films, but he has also produced a large and eclectic body of independent short films throughout his career.
The Academy Film Archive has now preserved the majority of Van Sant’s shorts. The Gus Van Sant Collection at the Academy includes his personal 35mm prints of every one of his features.
The Academy’s upcoming Archival Revival series features a new print of Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991) as well as two recently restored shorts by the director, including Four Boys on the Road in a Volvo (1996).
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Imagine the entire history of film housed in a building anybody can visit.medium.com