Film Archivists’ New Supporting Role: Silent Film Preservation

Universal Pictures wants to fully restore and properly archive more than a dozen silent films from the studio’s early years. The company has tapped a number of film industry groups with the right expertise, including the Association of Moving Image Archivists.

For its centennial celebration in 2012, Universal Pictures launched a restoration project that saw some of the studio’s most storied films get cleaned up for the digital age. Nearly 30 titles, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Schindler’s List, and Jaws, have been fully restored to date.

It’s a recognition of the work that our members do, and it’s a recognition of the fact that this is a community within the film industry.

Last week, Universal announced its continued commitment to the restoration and preservation of its rich film history. Over the next four years, the studio will identify and restore 15 silent film titles from the early 20th century. To do so, the studio is calling on organizations like the Film Foundation, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Hollywood Heritage, and the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), as well as the Library of Congress.

“The company understands its responsibility and need to preserve our silent film legacy,” Ron Meyer, vice chairman at NBCUniversal, said in a statement. “This early art of filmmaking is the foundation on which Universal Pictures was built more than 100 years ago, and it’s important we honor our rich history.”

Though in the very early stages, the restoration project has the potential to provide a major boon to film archivists, Laura Rooney, AMIA managing director, said in an interview with Associations Now.

“I think it’s really wonderful that Universal reached out and made partners of all of these groups,” she said. “It’s a recognition of the work that our members do, and it’s a recognition of the fact that this is a community within the film industry.”

AMIA will serve as a facilitator throughout the Universal Pictures project.

“Our members are anybody who works with film, video, sound, audiovisual materials—basically the entire industry. And so, we’ll be helping everyone get in touch with the right people,” Rooney said. “It’s hard to know at this point which members will be a part of the project, but because AMIA encompasses so much of the field, it will be everything from finding sources and materials to the physical work at the restoration labs.”

AMIA has been involved in similar projects in the past, including Universal’s centennial restoration efforts, but nothing of this magnitude or with this much publicity, said Rooney.

“The fact that Universal is taking such care of its library and its legacy is really important, and I hope that people recognize that there’s a lot of work that goes into that and a lot of resources,” she said. “For us, it’s very relevant in making people understand that your audiovisual archives—whether those are old silent films, local news telecasts, or educational materials—they all need to be taken care of. Those images that are so important to our culture now will disappear if there aren’t caretakers.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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