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Monday, 19 September 2016

A Proposal to boost Film Preservation in Australia

Each year the Library of Congress announces that it has added 25 films to the National Register.It does this by a slightly convoluted process involving public and bureaucratic consideration. It's explained simply in this extract from Wikipedia which has a multitude of links and cross-references: The National Film Registry (NFR) is the United States National Film Preservation Board's (NFPB) selection of films for preservation in the Library of Congress. The NFPB, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008.[1][2][3] The NFPB's mission, to which the NFR contributes, is to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America's film heritage.[4] The 1996 law also created the non-profit National Film Preservation Foundation which, although affiliated with the NFPB, raises money from the private sector.[5]

I'm minded of this by Michael Loebenstein's post on Film Alert which you can find here. In it he lists the films the NFSA has recently preserved or restored depending I think on definition but no need to be too precise. Michael then mentions that the NFSA   "currently have around 10 films in the production pipeline for 2016/17, including full photochemical and digital restorations of three Snowy Baker silents (from original nitrate)." for the next year. Some names, no packdrill and no information as to the selection criteria or the names of the decision makers. 

Time I think to use this process for a better and smarter purpose, one which if delicately managed could seriously assist in getting film preservation on the front foot and the NFSA's response to its current priority one task much better known to the public and to the politicians and bureaucrats who control the money..  

Now if you cloak a process in some secrecy then you can hardly expect to get full bang for your buck when you dribble out announcements of premiere restoration screenings via the pages of film festival programs, especially as any such pages are likely to be  well past the staple. No! The answer lies in taking control of the process, making it, just as the Library of Congress does, a public event and, at the same time, using the process of identifying films in need in order to put some pressure on the Federal Government especially to come up with the wherewithal to save the National Film Heritage before it is lost forever. As we know from every other bleeding heart organisation, those who dont have a strategy to get their case in front of people are doomed to be dubbed mediocre and unworthy of support. 

So my short proposal is that the NFSA should be seeking funds for restoration as  matter of course and its Minister should be put under heavy pressure by the industry especially to kick in the necessary funds. But pressure points are everything and this way twice a year there will be a major and no doubt exasperating announcement of the next ten or twenty or however many Oz classics wherein many famous and indeed glamour plus people will look sternly into the news camera and declare that the dark days of losing our film heritage have to end and the only way to do it is for the Feds to find a bag of cash quick smart.

How would the decisions be made, well if you read the US process, its democracy to an absurd degree and quite costly. We need a Council of Film Elders whose task it will be to carefully sift through some well prepared, by the NFSA, Committee papers and identify what should get priority. If the NFSA doesn't have the money to do it well its a cogent argument for more to given. My nominations as to whom should be the exalted deciders, well far be it from me to be prescriptive but here are my thoughts. 

Like the Australian cricket team it would consist of eleven selectors and maybe a twelfth person who would act as a substitute for any unavailable on the day. The Chair would be the still active father of the film industry and still fearless commentator Philip Adams - a citizen of gravitas and one who engenders deep respect from many, if not all of the film industry. My suggestions for other names would include a talent pool of major figures - Peter Weir, Jane Campion, Anthony Buckley, Sue Milliken, Bruce Beresford, Gillian Armstrong, George Miller, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Rolf De Heer, Molly Reynolds, Rowan Woods, Cate Blanchett, Ivan Sen, Rachel Perkins, Wayne Blair, Jan Chapman, Matt Saville Catriona McKenzie, David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin,  Tom Zubrycki, Trish Lake, Tom Jeffrey, Martha Ansara - the list of worthies is near endless but their views would all be unique, robust and argued from the point of view of industry practitioners. I hope it represents young and old.

Within a couple of years there should be foprty or fifty films, nominated each six months by our Committee of worthies glaring balefully at the camera and warning of danger. Its got to be a better way than the currnt pretense that all is Ok and we can do it with crowd funding.

The talent pool awaits the call. The people have to be awakened to the cause. The industry has to to take command.

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