Friday 12 March 2010

Archiving the Future| mobilizing the past

Less than a week to go till the Society of Cinema and Media Studies Conference in Los Angeles and I'm getting pretty excited! I've just been having a look at the conference programme and there's some really interesting sounding panels, well, they all sound interesting actually, but of course I'm particularly keen on the ones which discuss the use of, and role of, archives in film studies.

In addition to the packed conference programme there are lots of screenings and special events scheduled in as well. One I'm particularly looking forward to is a screening at UCLA of The Exiles. This is a film I mentioned briefly in a previous post about The Pleasure Garden (1953), a film by James Broughton and starring Lindsay Anderson. In the same blog post where I first heard about the release of The Pleasure Garden there was also discussion of another recently restored film The Exiles (1961). This film was the debut feature of Kent Mackenzie who had previously made a short film Bunker Hill about the eponymously named area of Los Angeles. Inspired by the experience of making this documentary he carried on to make this feature film. It follows a group of young Native American men and women living in the Bunker Hill area and is based entirely on interviews with them and their friends.

Still from The Exiles © Milestone FIlms

Still from The Exiles © Milestone FIlms

The film was restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in cooperation with University of Southern California Moving Image Archive, National Film Preservation Foundation and Milestone. There's detailed discussion of the preservation process in the press pack for the film. In 2003 a film by Thom Anderson Los Angeles Plays Itself began a renewal of interest in Mackenzie's film. However these plans were shelved partly becuase it was thought that only one 35mm print survived, and also due to concerns over the copyright clearance of the music used throughout the film. When Milestone found out that the music was created specifically for the film, and that there existed both the original negative and the fine grain interpositive for the film, they resurrected the plans to distribute the film. In order to preserve the film before distributing it, it was taken to UCLA where Ross Lipman, the preservationist who also restored Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (thanks for that one too!), worked on creating preservation materials and new prints.

I can't wait to see the results!

Still from The Exiles © Milestone FIlms


  1. Hi Kathryn,

    I have been meaning to ask you a question for a while. How does one discover lost or misplaced negatives or film prints, particularly silent films previously thought lost? What's the process?--- in other words.

    Are there people who take trips across the world searching for them as part of their job description, or is it purely left to chance and luck? I know that scouring archives has frequently turned up misfiled and mislabeled prints.

    Is that something you yourself do, or is it the domain of a particular person with a particular sort of training?

  2. While I'm thinking about it, I recognize you're going to LA for the latest conference, but I know that periodically the AFI here in Washington, DC, puts on similar functions, so I'd very much enjoy the opportunity to talk film with you if you are ever in town.

  3. Hi Kevin,

    I really don't know whether there are people actively seeking lost silent films. I know that organsiations like the World Cinema Foundation concern themselves with preserving film heritage that would otherwise be lost but I'm not sure if there are organisations that do this retrospectively. I deal only with the paper records relating to film, although I'd love to train to be a film archivist as well!

    There's a really interesting blog about early and silent cinema, The Bioscope, which might have more answers. Incidently there's a wonderful novel by Paul Auster 'The Book of Illusions' which is centred around the search for lost silent films.

  4. Have a great trip to LA Kathryn. Can't wait to hear all about it when you get back.

    Z x