Oct 24, 2010

The Orphan Film Project x7 (x2)

The Orphan Film Project. 

Since the Orphan Film Symposium, a biennial, has turned into a year-round endeavor, now seems the time to let all those efforts -- of students, teachers, archivists, labs, historians, curators, media artists -- become better credited as a Project with a capital P.  Informally, we have been working on lower-cased orphan film projects for several years.

The October 23 screening at the Museum of Modern Art was the first time a public event was branded as the Orphan Film Project. The audience responded enthusiastically to the 90-minute program. So let's take that as a good omen for the new surtitle.

Project here connotes a particular definition: a collaborative research enterprise designed to achieve a given aim. The aim remains the same: to identify and preserve all manner of significant but neglected films and to make them accessible and comprehensible. The in-person symposium is the big payoff every other year. The planning and design of the research need not (should not) be centralized. The work continues year-round and in many places. 

The MoMA screening was also an apt moment to "rebrand" the "Orphans" enterprise. The supposed off year for the symposium has been filled with special screening events. Next month, it's an "Orphans of New York" program for the DOC NYC Festival, at the IFC Center. In January 2011, there's an Orphans Redux night at Anthology Film Archives. Plans are afoot for a second Orphans West in Los Angeles next year. And the Wisconsin Film Festival has very recently inquired about adding something to its annual event this coming April. Each of these will have its own flavor of course, but they all stem from ideas, films, talks, and performances from past symposiums. 

Another new undertaking of the Orphan Film Project is issuing DVD compilations. The disc produced for the 7th symposium this past April turned into a fairly major undertaking: 11 titles, some original soundtracks, commentary audio tracks, and written annotations and preservation notes. The technical chops and creative juices came from Walter Forsberg, Jonah Volk, and Stefan Elnabli, working with the terrific collaboration of the NYU Libraries staff, especially Alice Moscoso and Ben Moskowitz in the Bobst Library's preservation department. Colorlab donated services of its top team and Broadway Video aided the pressing of the DVDs. Everyone who came to the symposium got a copy.

Only weeks after the April 2010 symposium wrapped, Messrs. Forsberg and Volk and Mlle. Moscoso decided we could do another DVD. The NYU Libraries is the supporting the production, and Colorlab insists on doing the best possible film-to-video transfers. By happenstance a few of the most likely suspects for inclusion on the DVD were related to the topic of space (as in outer space). Teenage Cosmonauts (1979-80) is a Soviet short found in the CPUSA Collection at NYU. John Lurie's Men in Orbit (1979) is a 16mm film that survives only on a U-matic videotape. And so we are compiling another eclectic group of orphan films, to be distributed (and not sold) in limited edition.  I am particularly excited about working with computer-film pioneer Lillian Schwartz, who made 16mm experimental works while artist in residence at Bell Labs, starting in 1968. 

More on the Project and its projects soon.