Re-Visiting Old Places and Inspiring New Generations, Part II

Submitted by abertin

Hi, Northeast Historic Film blog readers! Last week, I discussed my recent visit to Colgate University to teach a film projection workshop and introduce the students to the world of film archiving, so if you are interested in any of those topics, you should check out Part I. Today, I’m going to be discussing another October trip, this time to the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman Museum. This trip, like the Colgate trip, was a return to a familiar place. The Selznick School is one of only three institutions within the United States at which one can receive a graduate degree in moving image archiving, and it just so happens that it was the one I chose to attend. I found many great mentors, colleagues, and friends during my time there, so beyond the very humbling honor that they thought I was worthy of an invite to speak with the current students, it was really nice to see everyone and catch-up on their lives and the amazing work that they are doing.

For many years, Karan Sheldon, Northeast Historic Film co-founder and current board member, has been a staple of the Selznick School. Every year she spends a full day at the George Eastman Museum and speaks to the students about the nuances of regional film archiving, the importance of archiving non-commercial cinema, and how to be an advocate for these principles within the field. She’s one of the most popular speakers in the program and in fact, when I was offered my current job at NHF, the second thing everyone said to me after “Congratulations” was “Say ‘hi’ to Karan!” Needless to say, she leaves an impact on the students, so when I was invited to join her on her Selznick odyssey this year, it was a little daunting. I mean, there were high expectations and I didn’t want to be the one to break the momentum. It’s an important trip, both for the students and for NHF. NHF and the Selznick School have a long-standing connection. I am the 10th graduate of the Selznick School to work at NHF. To put that into perspective, that number places NHF, if I remember correctly, in second or third place for number of Selznick grads hired. Also, both a high percentage of NHF’s staff currently and throughout its history have attended the Selznick School. Presently, NHF has four full-time staff members, two of whom are Selznick grads. There’s clearly a mutual respect between these two institutions.

The importance of this trip goes far beyond the statistics that NHF is a reliable place for Selznick students to look for jobs or that the Selznick school is a good pool for NHF to draw upon for reliable employees. The importance of this trip stems from the fact that it is an opportunity for Northeast Historic Film to create advocates for the preservation of non-commercial cinema and an opportunity for the Selznick students to gain experience thinking about both the theoretical and day-to-day implications of archiving non-commercial cinema. These students are the future of the film archiving field. By this time next year, many of them will be working in the field and will be responsible for preserving a vast array of audio-visual collections. Even if they do not end up working at a regional archive, like Northeast Historic Film, they will most likely be dealing with non-commercial films and will need to understand all of the unique requirements that go along with that. Further, if these future archivists understand not only the daily operations of a regional film archive, but also the value of what we do, they will potentially become voices for the preservation of non-commercial film at the institutions they work for and within the communities they live, which I think is a noble and valuable thing to do.

Bearing all of this in mind, Karan and I covered a vast array of topics ranging from the types of services NHF offers to advanced small gauge film identification skills; from the importance of amateur film collections to the importance of involving the community in the work that we do. We showed them our 16mm print of The Movie Queen – Lincoln and many other clips of material from our collections, including a short clip from one of our newer collections we are currently working to preserve, the Dorothy Stebbins Bowles Collection (Read about it and help us preserve it by adding your donation to the collection box in the Alamo Theatre lobby today!). We discussed the ethics involved in collecting home movies as well as how we, as archivists, can be more accessible to the communities we serve and how we can engage these communities in our work. Ultimately, the most important thing Karan and I wanted to communicate to the students was the cultural importance of the collections regional archives possess– home movies, amateur films, educational films, industrial films, news footage – and the deeper connection a regional archive must have to the community it serves compared to film archives with collections predominately made-up of commercial films.

I think I can speak for both Karan and myself when I say that we were both very impressed with this year’s group of Selznick students and that we both learned a lot from the time we spent with them. They consistently challenged us and offered great suggestions for how to better serve our community and our field, re-affirming our belief in the value of collaboration. Thanks for inviting us, L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, and I hope to see you all again next year! I also hope to see all of you reading this very soon at the archive, at a Northeast Historic Film event, or at a movie at the Alamo!