AMIA Film Preservation Conference: Speakers Warn That Indie Films Are in “Danger”

“There are a lot of independent filmmakers who believe their films are fine – and  they’re not,” warned The Film Foundation’s Jennifer Ahn.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Many independent movies made in the digital era are in “danger” of not being preserved, warned speakers on a panel that paid tribute to The Film Foundation’s 25th anniversary, Friday evening at The Association of Moving Image Archivists' (AMIA) 35th Reel Thing symposium for Hollywood’s motion picture restoration and preservation community.

“We feel film is key to preservation, but most indie directors don’t have that economic luxury,” warned New York-based Film Foundation executive director Margaret Bodde. (Film is, in fact, the only archival medium proven to last at least a century). “We have a program to raise awareness [of archival challenges]. We are reminding filmmakers that just because it’s on YouTube or DigiBeta [doesn't mean it’s] preserved in the long run.”

“The independents are especially in danger,” emphasized moderator and Reel Thing curator Grover Crisp, who is executive vp of asset management, film restoration and digital mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment. He added that for digitally-produced movies, the master material is data that sits at the facility where the movie was made, “and if the filmmakers don’t take it, it will likely get deleted.”

“You'd be surprised, there are a lot of independent filmmakers who believe their films are fine – and they’re not,” asserted The Film Foundation's L.A.-based managing director Jennifer Ahn.

The Foundation — founded and chaired by Martin Scorsese and aimed at saving motion picture history — has preserved and restored an estimated 700 titles. “We are not even near done,” Bodde asserted, receiving enthusiastic applause from the audience as she reported. “We have always done a film out and a print for each [restoration], and we’ll continue to do that so long as there’s film.”

The Foundation regularly reviews proposals and seeks preservation funding for films that need to be restored; movies are selected based on criteria including the condition of the master and the film’s cultural significance.

On Friday at the Reel Thing symposium, The Film Foundation announced and previewed in its entirety a restoration-in-progress of Raid in Tibet (1966), a 30-minute 16mm documentary directed by British filmmaker Adrian Cowell and photographed Chris Menges (who went on to win cinematography Oscars for The Killing Fields and The Mission).

The foundation’s latest restoration project, Raid in Tibet, is believed to be the only filmed documentation of the Tibetan guerilla fighters who tried to withstand Chinese soldiers during the ‘60s, material that had been suppressed for years, related Bodde and Ahn.

The Reel Thing, held at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood, concludes on Saturday.

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