Saturday, July 20, 2013
Saving Films at DuArt
As many of you may already know, I have been working since early this year on the Great DuArt Rescue Project, so-called, in which several U.S. film archives have been collaborating with DuArt in New York to rescue films they've been storing, in most cases for decades. DuArt's film processing business closed a couple years ago, and they've now decided to close their film storage as well. My good friend and colleague Sandra Schulberg, who know the folks at DuArt well, and I have talked about the DuArt situation for the past couple of years, and knew the day would come when DuArt could no longer keep their films.
For those of you who don't know about DuArt, it is one of the great film companies, and institutions, in the history of film. It would take me a book to go into just how much Irwin Young and this company have meant to independent filmmakers not only in New York, but around the world, for several decades. Not to mention their technical innovations. They are yet another sad example of the transition away from film that Analog Image Lovers are now suffering through.
With Sandra's help, I began communicating with folks at DuArt to see what the situation was, and if the film archives could be of help. I first discussed things with Andy Young, Irwin's nephew (and Oscar nominated doc filmmaker), who helped to get things moving. I then got in touch with colleagues at the Museum of Modern Art, George Eastman House, the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and the Library of Congress, to see if they would be interested in bringing films into their collections. Since there was no accessible master list or database of exactly what DuArt had, we had to go to their vaults and check the shelves in person. DuArt, in the person of the fantastic Steve Blakely, had been trying to contact filmmakers for several years to ask them to retrieve their films, so many films were already gone. However, thousands of films remained - we just didn't know what was there.
In early April, my Academy colleague Brian Drischell and I went to New York, as did representatives of MOMA, GEH, Anthology Film Archives, and others representing various film institutions, to look through all of DuArt's vaults, to identify exactly what was there, and tag those films which each institution was interested in bringing into their collection. As I mentioned, Steve had been valiantly trying for some time to contact filmmakers, but in many cases their contact information was out of date. One problem we encountered was that information in the boxes was incomplete or misleading - the title may have been a production-only title, and the name could have been the person or company that originally placed the elements there, not necessarily the director or producer. I should say here that practically everything we saw at DuArt were pre-print elements: original or printing picture and track negatives.
As we looked through the shelves, we were amazed at what we saw: though the majority of titles were unfamiliar, we did see the original negatives of many, many famous independent films. I was excited to see several Oscar nominated documentaries - some that I knew ahead of time would be there, but many others were a surprise. I also came across some industrials made by Oscar nominated documentarians. Contained in these vaults was a vast array of film types, everything from student films made at NYU and other New York City schools, documentaries, industrials, shorts, animation, promotional films (some from Nebraska and elsewhere in the Midwest), foreign films, and famous and not-so-famous independent features.
All the archives went through and selected films they thought appropriate for their collections. They often had existing relationships with certain filmmakers, or collections into which some films would natural fit. We developed a huge master list of titles, and there was some overlap, as particularly significant titles generated interest from more than one archive. But this was a rescue mission, and we collegially distributed all such titles.
Of course, we want to save these films, and give them good homes, but for the most part they do belong to individuals or companies, even the major studios. Some titles are in the public domain, or their owners are either defunct (companies) or deceased (individuals). But most belong to someone, and the archives need to try to contact them. I have personally contacted over 100 filmmakers to let them know that their films are at DuArt, and they will be going to one or another film archive, unless they desire otherwise. The vast majority, perhaps 90%, of the filmmakers that I've contacted, had no idea their films were there. Some, sadly, were either unwilling, unable, or uninterested to deal with their films, and some told Steve to throw their stuff away! Luckily DuArt and the film archives have been working together to avoid disposing of any films. I understand that NYU has decided to take all the student films not selected by the archives.