Director’s Note: Valediction to Paolo Cherchi Usai
After more than twenty years of service to the George Eastman Museum, Paolo Cherchi Usai will step down from his position as Senior Curator of the Moving Image Department on June 28.
Paolo was unexpectedly offered a leadership position at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Italy’s national film institute. He accepted the position because his wife and stepdaughter live in Milan, and he has been separated from them the great majority of the time since he returned to the Eastman Museum in 2011.
Paolo has steadfastly upheld and thus solidified our institution’s position as one of the world’s leading film museums. Among his many accomplishments, he played an essential role in the creation and expansion of the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center for nitrate film; the establishment and sustained excellence of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation; the development of our Technicolor holdings, the publication of The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915–1935, and the launch of the Technicolor Online Research Archive; the Nitrate Picture Show film festival; the transformative donation by world-renowned artist William Kentridge of his oeuvre of moving image works; our assembly of the world’s leading collection of South Asian films; and the forthcoming publication of The Art of Film Projection: A Beginner’s Guide.
Paolo’s commitment to the Eastman Museum was manifested by his generous donation of more than 15,000 nitrate film clippings from the early years of silent cinema. These film clippings were the subject of the exhibition Dreaming in Color: The Davide Turconi Collection of Early Cinema.
A leading authority on silent film and film preservation, he authored Burning Passions: Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema (1994), now in its third edition, and The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory, and the Digital Dark Age (2001), a prescient and insightful analysis of digital media and a manifesto for film preservation. He was the editor of The Griffith Project (1999–2008), a twelve-volume catalogue raisonné of the films of D. W. Griffith. He was a co-founder of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.
Paolo’s enthusiasms extend to the contemporary arts. He has created two avant-garde silent films. Passio (2007) is accompanied by a contemporary oratorio, St. John’s Passion, written by Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Pärt. Picture (2015) was shaped by a score he commissioned from the Alloy Orchestra, a percussion ensemble.
After leaving his position, Paolo will maintain strong connections with the Eastman Museum. He will organize and edit a book on The Photo-Drama of Creation (1914); because of Paolo’s efforts, the museum has the leading holdings of film footage and other elements of this first global blockbuster.
Paolo will be succeeded as head of the Moving Image Department by Peter Bagrov, PhD — formerly senior curator of Gosfilmofond, the Russian national film archive — who will become curator in charge of the department in August. Although Paolo’s departure represents a great loss for our institution, I am excited by the future of the department under Peter’s leadership.
Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
May/June 2019 Bulletin