Symposium dates: March 26-29, 2008

Symposium dates: March 26-29, 2008

New York University and the Department of Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts will host a unique festival and conference on the preservation, historical value, and creative use of orphan films. Attracting more than 300 media artists, curators, archivists, scholars, preservation experts, students, collectors, and film enthusiasts from 17 nations, the biennial event is being held in New York City for the first time.

The 6th Orphan Film Symposium, March 26-29, will be held at the Cantor Film Center, located at 36 East 8th Street. The three-day, four-night program will be devoted to panel discussions and screenings having to do with saving and studying an eclectic group of neglected films. These moving images, shot in 16 countries dating back more than 100 years, range from a French film found in an Australian archive (The Invisible Men, 1906) to a Mexican filmmaker’s documentary made in the Ukraine (Naomi Uman’s Kalendar, 2008). Unlike most events of this kind, Orphan Film Symposium participants will take their meals together in order to foster an environment in which new knowledge is generated and new partnerships made.

“This on-going collaboration of archives, universities, artists, and laboratories continues to bring amazing but forgotten film and video artifacts back into the public light,” said NYU Cinema Studies professor Dan Streible, director of the Orphan Film Symposium. Since the first gathering at the University of South Carolina in 1999, the number of supporters and participants has grown steadily. According to Streible, “the participation of private-sector companies and non-profit organizations has lifted the project into a year-round research and preservation initiative.”

Companies contributing film and video preservation services to this year’s program include Kodak, Colorlab, Haghefilm, SAMMA Systems, Universal Studios, Ascent Media, Technicolor, and other labs. Partners from the non-profit sector include the Double R Foundation, the Maxine Greene Foundation, Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, NYU Libraries, Filmoteca Española, and the Library of Congress.

This year’s screenings address the broad theme of “the state.” Among the highlights are premieres of newly preserved works, including:

  • V-E +1 May 9, 1945. Samuel Fuller’s first film, documenting the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp (Academy Film Archive)
  • La Venganza de Pancho Villa (1934) a compilation film by itinerant exhibitors along the Texas-Mexico border (AFI, with Cineteca di Bologna)
  • Sunday (1961) Dan Drasin’s record of a protest against the ban on folk singing[!] in Washington Square Park (UCLA Film & Television Archive)
  • Noticiario de Laya No. 3 (1937) rediscovered newsreel of the Spanish Civil War (NYU Tamiment Library)
  • Think of Me First as a Person (1960-75) amateur-made compilation of a father’s home movies of his Down syndrome son (Center for Home Movies)
  • Helen La Belle (1957) animator Lotte Reiniger’s short rendition of the operetta (Deutsches Filmmuseum)
  • Our Day (1938) exquisitely crafted home movie made in Lebanon, Kentucky. Added to the National Film Registry, 2007 (Library of Congress)
  • Carl Sanders campaign ads (1970) shot by the Maysles brothers for the candidate who ran against Jimmy Carter for governor (University of Georgia Library)
  • Teach Our Children (1972) a documentary, made anonymously by Christine Choy and Susan Robeson, in response to the Attica prison insurrection (Pacific Film Archive)
  • Helen Hill’s home movies (2001-05) Super8 films of pre-Katrina New Orleans, part of a tribute to the late filmmaker (Harvard Film Archive)

Archivists coined the term “orphan film” to refer to motion pictures abandoned by their owners. More generally, the term refers to any film outside of the commercial mainstream: home movies, silent films, independent documentaries, newsreels, outtakes, industrial and educational films, censored material, experimental works, and others.

The Symposium is sold out, but NYU will provide a live blog throughout. Audio recordings of talks will be freely available at the end of the Symposium on the Orphan Film Symposium website:

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Richard Pierce
Richard Pierce
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