In 1988, the National Film Preservation Board was established to identify films for preservation in the Library of Congress. Every year, the Board advises the Librarian of Congress on the selection of up to 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” for the National Film Registry (NFR) to increase awareness for preservation and protect America’s rich and diverse film heritage.
Over 600 films have been added to the Registry since its creation, including Hollywood classics, orphan films, newsreels, independent and experimental films, short subjects, serials, home movies, documentaries, and more. While the Film Preservation Board and the Librarian of Congress officially choose the films, they consider public nominations when deliberating. You can learn more about nominating films for the NFR here.
Two films from the MIRC collections have been added to the NFR to date. In 2003, Fox Movietone News outtakes of the Jenkins Orphanage Band was selected. Filmed in 1928, this newsreel footage is the earliest extant sound recording of one of the country’s most important jazz “incubators.” In 2012, the Board added Scott Nixon’s The Augustas, a significant record of mid-century Americana. Filmed in the 1930s and 1940s by a traveling salesman from Georgia, this home movie features a variety of American cities and towns named Augusta. MIRC continues to advocate for valuable films in the collection that have not yet made it onto the Registry, including these Fox Movietone News outtakes of New York street scenes and noises.
The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress works with the studios, independent filmmakers, or institutions to find the best film elements of each chosen title and conserve them under optimal conditions. In some cases, the films have already been preserved. Inclusion in the Registry can also increase the chances for archives to acquire funding for physical preservation of the film. For this reason, a San Francisco archive is working to have a culturally important film in their holdings added to the Film Registry.
The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive at San Francisco State University contains over 4000 hours of local newsfilm, documentaries, and other programs. Part of the J. Paul Leonard Library’s Department of Special Collections, the SFBATV maintains materials donated by broadcasters, production companies, and private individuals for preservation as academic resources.
You can learn more about the archive and its work to preserve the San Francisco Bay area’s audio-visual heritage in this short film.
SF State University’s film archivist Alex Cherian has spent the last few years diligently viewing, reviewing, cataloging, and digitizing the collections to make them freely available online for researchers, students, and film aficionados. He has uncovered many gems in his time as archivist, and is currently advocating for the addition of his most recent find to the NFR. This new discovery is the Director’s Cut of the 1963 documentary film Take this Hammer, which follows writer James Baldwin as he investigates race relations in San Francisco. Thanks to Alex, you can watch the film here.
February 4th, 2014 is the 50th Anniversary of the first television broadcast of the film and an event is being organized in San Francisco to mark the occasion.
The film is currently being used by filmmakers in the Bayview Hunters Point community (one of the neighborhoods Baldwin visited) to produce oral histories. Modern audiences continue to find the film relevant to their experience today and it has even been used to teach college seminars in a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.
I asked Alex how he came across this film:
“Take this Hammer was passed to us by KQED (local PBS affiliate) in the 1980s. It was in a can labeled ‘silent.’ When I checked this 16mm print in 2013, I saw it had an optical soundtrack and was 15 minutes longer than all the other prints we had of Take this Hammer. When we first remastered the print I got really excited because it contained scenes that weren’t in the TV broadcast edit.
In 2012 director Richard O. Moore was interviewed by a TV Archive production team. He explained that he was forced to cut 15 minutes from his original edit by the KQED Board of Directors, some of whom felt it was ‘inflammatory, distorted, sacrilegious.’ The rough n’ ready end credits on this 59 minute print confirmed our suspicion that this was the uncut, original version of his film.”
Your voice can make a difference. Contact the National Film Preservation Board to nominate this film (or others) for addition to the National Film Registry. One email can help to preserve a significant part of our shared culture for future generations.
Written by Lydia Pappas, MIRC Assistant Director and Curator