The Packard Campus is excited to host to the tenth edition of the Orphan Film Symposium, April 6-9, 2016; the theme is “Sound,” both with and without moving images. “Orphans X” is presented in conjunction with New York University Cinema Studies and its Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program.
I’ve written elsewhere about our Paper Print Collection, its historical significance, and how its survival can be considered a minor miracle of foresight and serendipity. It’s easy to overlook the role of human agency in this kind of story. For instance, who was the person in the Copyright Office who decided that motion pictures could be registered as photographs? Who was the person who ensured that the paper prints were stored in the basement of the Jefferson Building rather than being discarded?
On the other hand, we do know the names of two men who were particularly instrumental in rescuing the paper prints from obscurity—Howard Walls and Kemp Niver. Walls was an employee of the Copyright Office in 1942 when he rediscovered the more than 6000 titles, sometimes in complete rolls, sometimes as fragments or frames, that had been submitted for registration between 1893 and 1912. He supervised the first of several preservation projects, but the effort didn’t really take off until the early 1950s when Kemp Niver undertook a comprehensive effort to transfer the paper prints to 16mm film. To this day, the vast majority of the paper prints are primarily available in the Moving Image Research Center via the Niver 16mm prints.
In the summer of 1992, filmmaker Bill Morrison was researching the history of the Paper Print Collection when he interviewed Kemp Niver in his Hollywood apartment and Howard Walls at his home in Goleta, California. That research led to his short The Film of Her (1996), which Bill will present at Orphans X along with excerpts—never before shown in public—of his interviews with Walls and Niver as part of a panel focusing on some the Library’s earliest films. We’re always pleased to welcome Bill to the Packard Campus, especially since his captivating feature Decasia (2002) is on the National Film Registry.
One of my all-time favorite titles in our collection is Reclaiming American History from Paper Rolls by the Renovare Process, a short film written and directed by Kemp Niver in 1953 that is a wonderful illustration of his preservation process. Renovare—from the Latin “to renew”—was an apt name for Niver’s company, for the Academy Award-winning work that he and his colleagues accomplished has been vital to our collective understanding of cinema’s evolution since its origins. And in a very real sense, work on the Paper Print Collection has never stopped. My Packard Campus colleagues Film Lab Supervisor Ken Weissman and Processing Technician Alexis Ainsworth are also presenting, and they’ll discuss our efforts to better catalog the paper prints and new approaches to scanning them.
Please join us at Orphans X!
Reclaiming American History from Paper Rolls by the Renovare Process (Primrose, 1953)