Out of the Past: Public Policies, Political Pressures, and American Film Preservation
Bertot, John C
Jaeger, Paul T
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This dissertation analyzes the federal government’s support for motion picture preservation, beginning with the founding of the American Film Institute (AFI) as a federally funded, nonprofit organization in 1967 and continuing through various government actions to support film preservation through the 1990s. The nature of this support, funding or otherwise, has varied greatly over the past decades, being informed by contemporary contexts and the perceived needs of the United States government. From the founding of cinema through the middle of the 1930s, most films were considered expendable within several years after their release. This changed in the United States when the Museum of Modern Art began collecting motion pictures. The federal government began supporting the activities of this institution and other film archives soon after and into the following years. Federal support for film preservation was generally sporadic, with the government often ceasing funding when its perceived needs were met, until the founding of the AFI. At this point, film preservation became an ongoing concern of the federal government, and it has remained so since. Beyond the AFI, landmark moments for film preservation have included the National Film Preservation Acts of 1988, 1992, and 1996 and the founding of the National Film Preservation Foundation in 1996. This study used a holistic approach, considering how various stakeholders have influenced or been influenced by the federal government’s actions regarding film preservation. Such stakeholders include film preservationists and archivists, businesses that produced or own the rights to films, the creative talent that makes movies, media scholars, and the general public. This analysis provides a history that will be of interest to practitioners in the field of motion picture preservation and it will help them to understand how to navigate the competing interests that influence their profession.