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Save the Docs!

By Kathleen Fairweather

Michael Friend, director of Film Archives at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is working with Les Blank on the archiving and preservation of his film catalogue. “We wanted to preserve all of Les’s films and are fortunate to be able to do this with his participation,” Friend says. “I think Les is one of the most important American documentary filmmakers, and it would be a shame for his work to be lost, damaged or destroyed. In this case, the prints are in pretty good condition, although some of the works had been cut for sales and distribution. We are in the process of restoring Les’s films to the original cuts—as he had intended the films to be in the first place. We are also working on the films of Robert Drew, and he checks each and every frame of our restoration. It’s a slow and painstaking process but we want to work with him to get it right. At this time we are also cataloging and preserving the war documentaries like Jean Renoir’s Salute to France and Fighting Lady.

“This is a service we offer to all filmmakers on a case by case basis,” Friend continues. “We get collections that don’t need preservation and we just store them. We would like more documentary filmmakers to take advantage of the free storage opportunity. It is important that these films be preserved and stored properly. It actually saves us money in the long run if we get the prints and store them before they deteriorate. That way we don’t have to spend the money later to repair damaged prints, and the film does not end up trashed, or restored without the filmmaker’s participation.

Friend is pleased with the response they have received through the IDA, but would like more filmmakers to get their films out of the closet and into the vaults. “It is irresponsible for documentarians to let these things lie until it is too late,” he advises. “If the film is worth making, it is worth preserving.”

For more information on the Academy’s Film Preservation program, contact the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Film Archive tel: 310. 247 3036.


Kathleen Fairweather is editor of International Documentary.