Over the next few weeks P3 Update will run a special Web-exclusive report that touches on the important topic of film preservation. Below is the first report of a three-part series.
“Today’s films are the Rosetta Stone of our times. They are how future generations will know who we were and what we did.” — Guillermo Navarro, ASC, AMC
Will today’s independent narrative films and documentaries be there for your grandchildren and the generations to follow in the distant future? In 2008, Andy Maltz and Milt Shefter set out to find the answer to that question. Maltz is the director of the Science and Technology Council at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Shefter is the president of Miljoy Enterprises, Inc., a media asset preservation firm that provides consulting and project management services.
Their ambitious endeavor followed in the wake of a previous research collaboration that culminated in the co-authoring of the Digital Dilemma report, published by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007. The report focuses on the archival status of narrative films produced and owned by Hollywood studios and dating back to the dawn of the industry. Digital Dilemma 2, a 127-page follow-up report, was co-sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress.
Maltz and Shefter put the issue of film preservation into perspective with a few salient facts: Approximately 75 percent of the films shown in U.S. theaters in 2010 were produced by independent filmmakers. There were 532 independent narrative films while the six major Hollywood studios and their subsidiaries only released 174 movies. Since 1980, more than half of the films that won Academy Awards in the Best Picture category were independent features.
Shefter points out that the importance of archiving films to preserve them for future generations isn’t a new concept. The National Archives Act of 1934 recognized the cultural and historical value of preserving documentaries and narrative films. And the National Film Preservation Act, passed by Congress in 1988, has been updated several times. This legislation recognizes that motion pictures are a form of art that should be preserved for future generations. Each year, the Library of Congress selects, restores (if necessary) and archives 25 culturally significant narrative films and documentaries. In addition to narrative films, the National Archives in Washington, D.C. houses one of the world’s largest collections of newsreels and other documentary films.
Film preservation is more than a cultural issue. A Global Media Intelligence study published in 2007 reported that approximately one-third of the annual $36 billion average earnings by producers comes from the films in their archives. The Digital Dilemma 2 project began with the distribution of a survey to approximately 150 members of the International Documentary Association, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Maltz and Shefter interviewed a cross section of filmmakers in addition to surveying and interviewing people at the 550 public audio-visual archives across the United States. “We believe this was the most comprehensive study ever done about the archival status of independent narrative films and documentaries,” says Maltz.