Maltz is director of the Science and Technology Council at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Shefter is president of Miljoy Enterprises, Inc., a media asset preservation firm that provides consulting and project management services.
They cite significant financial and cultural incentives for effective archiving. A 2007 Global Media Intelligence study reported that approximately one-third of the $36 billion average annual earnings by producers comes from re-releasing older films to new markets. You can see an examples any day of the week by checking the Turner Classic Movie channel schedule. The recent schedule included The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Ben-Hur (1955) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).
Older films frequently provide essential content for the production of history-based documentaries. One example: Harrison Engle produced and directed The Lost Kennedy Home Movies, which aired on PBS in 2011. The visual content, which primarily consists of 16 mm home movies taken of John and Teddy Kennedy and other family members during the 1930s through the mid-1960s, provides extraordinary insights into the shaping of their characters and perspectives.
The findings of the Digital Dilemma reports are becoming increasingly more significant with the rapid trend towards digital origination and postproduction.
“Analog films are relatively easy to maintain,” Shefter observes. “The original film will last for 95 years or longer in proper temperature and humidity controlled environments. Many of the people we surveyed and interviewed weren’t aware of the need to migrate digital content before it degrades and as older formats become obsolete.”
Maltz adds, “More than 60 percent of the independent and documentary filmmakers who responded to our surveys and participated in interviews said that they have thought about migrating older digital files. However, only eight percent of them said they regularly migrate content. Twenty-six percent said they do it occasionally.”
One potential solution: There are more than 550 public moving image archives in the United States and its territories, however Shefter cautions that some of them aren’t equipped for long-term shortage of digital content.
“We want everyone who is concerned about ensuring long-term access to films to be able to read the report,” Maltz says. “Educational organizations can get free printed copies upon request and anyone can purchase them. The report is also available on the Academy website at http://www.oscars.org/tdd2. Anyone can download it.”