Jun 10, 2008

Orphans in the blogosphere

As reported on the Roosevelt Island 360 blog, our sister site WotBA has unfurled a week-long photologue tour of New York's Roosevelt Island, which I just learned is home to Orphans International (which is not a film institution). Nonetheless, the picture makes a nice welcome-to-the-world and reminds us what’s important. Or, as a friend said to me when our conversation alluded to movie stars, “The world is so f***ed up right now, I don’t care if I never see another celebrity.”

More relevant to the Orphan Film Movement (if I may) is news involving folks who were at this spring's symposium. The Tribeca Film Institute has launched an ambitious Web project called Reframe, led by Brian Newman. Newman (after stints at the South Carolina Arts Commission in Columbia and IMAGE Film & Video Center in Atlanta) became executive director of the New York-based National Video Resources in 2004. NVR changed its name to Renew Media, though it retained its non-for-profit mission to support independent media makers (e.g., a 2004 fellowship to Helen Hill for work on her film The Florestine Collection). Then, in February 2008, Renew Media merged with the Tribeca Film Institute, best known for its annual post-9/11 film festival – making Brian Newman CEO of the institute.

Reframe is a major undertaking. Several partners are invested: the MacArthur Foundation, Warhol Foundation, Amazon.com, NEA, New York State Council on the Arts, and the moving image “content owners” who will go to Reframe for digitization and distribution. Reframe’s announcement certainly attracted press coverage (e.g., “Tribeca, Amazon to Digitize Rare Films,” Hollywood Reporter).

Here's how the institute describes the project:
The goal of Reframe is to help individual filmmakers, distributors, archives, libraries and other media owners to digitize and sell their work using the internet, and to become a one-stop location for anyone seeking these films.
Will this robust resource change the map of film-video distribution and access, in a way often promised in the rhetoric of new technology? Will traditional film archives and private archival film collections buy into Reframe, giving us the ability to purchase DVD or MPEG copies of obscure and orphaned movies? Of course several significant enterprises and many small-scale ones are already established on the Web. YouTube aside, Netflix now sells downloads of commercial features (IF your computer is not a Mac). The Library of Congress has been making public domain material available for more than a decade – long enough that most of its digitized motion pictures are available as small-windowed QuickTime files. Ubu.com has its funky film line-up. Folkstreams.net offers its "national preserve" for an excellent thematic collection of older and rare films about American roots music.

Most significant perhaps is the visionary, petabyte-minded Internet Archive, which added its Moving Image wing in February 2001. Archive.org launched with a thousand orphan films from the Prelinger Archives, free for download and re-use. Many more works and collections continue to be added (now 120,859 items, they say). Will the strength of the Amazon and Tribeca brands allow Reframe to achieve a new economy of scale, one that surpasses these other ventures?

The Tribeca Film Institute has more than one iron in the fire, to be sure. During the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, it commissioned a weekly blog by Teri Tynes (friend of the show), which she entitled Shoe Leather. Not limited to TFF stuff, Shoe Leather writes about all kinds of independent (if not orphan) film interests. The June 9th edition features a guide to essential experimental film viewing, as guided by avant garde media maven Michael Zryd (friend of the show). Hollis Frampton is Topic A. Think a canonized member of the American film avant garde has not been orphaned? Zryd has been circumnavigating the globe looking in archives that hold bits and pieces of Frampton’s uncompleted Magellan series. Even some of the Frampton films safely stored by the Museum of Modern Art remain unpreserved.

The good news is that, thanks to a very generous grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the final six films in Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena* series got preserved this year. Bill Brand at BB Optics did the work in concert with the final-semester M.A. students in NYU’s MIAP program. Before this, MoMA had preserved only the first and best-known work in the series, (nostalgia) (1971) --with NFPF funding.

Look for some of the Hapax 6-pack at Orphans 7. But more on that another time . . . .

* hapax legomenon: a word that occurs only once in a body of work or language.

Here's how to pronounce it.