“What would life be without ‘Shawshank Redemption’ or ‘Casablanca,’ if these films simply disappeared one day?” questions Professor Ross Melnick of the Film & Media Studies department, the curator of the upcoming series “The Future of the Past: The Arts and Philosophy of Film Preservation.” Questions such as the one suggested by Melnick constitute the backbone of “Future of the Past,” which will be put on by the Carsey-Wolf Center at University of California Santa Barbara and runs from Jan. 15 through March 12. The film series, which will be held at Pollock Theater, will focus on the importance of film preservation and its unique cultural heritage.
Preservation of films did not become important until very recently—before the advent of the home movie, films that were not deemed profitable enough for a re-release were destroyed so their footage could be used for other purposes, or simply to make more room in the studio vaults. To counteract this, archivists began to collect the films and salvage them to avoid their destruction. “Future of the Past” features speakers from both the Academy Film Archive (director Michael Pogorzelski) and UCLA’s Film and TV archive (director Jan-Christopher Horak), two of the nation’s largest collections.
Only recently have studios begun to preserve films—Grover Crisp, the executive vice president for asset management and film restoration at Sony Pictures Entertainment, will be speaking at a screening of the studio’s new restoration of “Lawrence of Arabia” on Feb. 26. The seminal classic will be presented in the highest possible quality of digital restoration, a recent upgrade to a 4K digital print by Sony Pictures. 4K is the highest possible quality of digital restoration, a process in which the film is stored on a hard drive rather than on film stock.
Editor Christel Schmidt will also be discussing her work “Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies” during a screening of “Sparrows.” The screening will also feature live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla and a discussion from UCSB professors Charles Wolfe and Melnick.
The discussion is not simply the “why” of film preservation, but also the “how.” In the digital era, film—a traditionally physical medium—has undergone several changes in both preservation and distribution.
“You can preserve a film, but how can you make it accessible to the public?” Melnick inquired; his words reflect the importance of not just keeping copies of these films on the shelf, but making sure they are seen. “Future of the Past” is not only an conversation on the importance of saving film and its cultural legacy, but also an exploration on the changing ways film is both preserved and presented. Every film being screened in the series has been restored—some, like “Lawrence of Arabia,” are being shown in the latest digital formats, while others like “Wild River” are in the more traditional film print format. The series also emphasizes that the purpose of preserving movies is not so they can exist on a shelf, but so they can be seen and enjoyed. East Asian language and cultural studies PhD student Yongli Li, who helped organize the event, noted that all the films that will be screened are great to view on the big screen, but are rarely shown on one.
With a broad range of titles, from science fiction dystopian epic “Metropolis” to the gangster film “Hoodlum” to the moving melodrama “Sparrows,” the series promises to appeal to even the most discerning viewer. With release years spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s, the films are sure to remind audiences of the delights of cinema and the importance of upholding its origins and legacy for future generations.