By Elias Savada.
The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) has supported a wide variety of members from around the globe: ‘archivists, librarians, collectors, curators, students, educators, artists, technologists, researchers, distributors, exhibitors, service providers, consultants, and advocates,’ according to its website.”
Yeah, you’re asking yourself, what the F is ASN Roadshow Edition 2? And how come there are already two of them?
Well, read on and you just might find out.
In normal, non-insulated times, hundreds of people would gather at a roaming convention to engage in conversation about the preservation of and access to moving image media: films, television, and a host of related modes of audio-visual delivery systems. The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), an outgrowth of a small group of film archivists that have exchanged advice since the 1960s, was officially christened in 1990, and now has 70 institutional and 834 individual members. It has supported a wide variety of members from around the globe: “archivists, librarians, collectors, curators, students, educators, artists, technologists, researchers, distributors, exhibitors, service providers, consultants, and advocates,” according to its website.
I’ve been a member for 25 years.
Since its first conference (1991, New York City), attendees have gathered to talk shop, meet with vendors, schmooze, and watch the event’s centerpiece, Archival Screening Night (ASN). Hustled together in a theater equipped with a variety of 35mm, 16mm, 8mm film, and a variety of video projectors, a dozen plus organizations offer up to 6-minute clips of wild and unusual footage. Some of these sampler programs have run 3 hours long. It can be exhilarating. It can be exhausting.
Before the pandemic forced AMIA to pivot to virtual gatherings, the first fully accessible to the public edition of this event premiered as theArchival Screening Night (Daytime) Roadshow Edition on June 21, 2019, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. This 110-minute compilation offered 22 clips, ranging from home movies to a trailer for the Thai blockbusters 4 Kingsto a Josephine Baker newsreel to comic animations to a behind the scenes look at John Waters’ Hairspray to moments from the landmark PBS series In the Life. A condensed 90-minute version was shown on July 21, 2020 on Turner Classic Movies, known for its wide support of archival features.
The uncertainty of Covid’s ebb-and-flo and travel to the conference city (El Paso, Texas) pushed AMIA conference into the virtual realm in 2020. In 2021 the planners had enough programming to support two such get-togethers, in April and November. ASN’s second Roadshow edition premiered, back in its usual evening slot, at the latter, and was also presented live at over two dozen locations — most in the U.S., but viewing sites also were available in the Netherlands, Thailand, Mexico, Canada, and Italy. I’m opting not to review this collection, because it’s review-proof. It is what it is, an oddball assortment of diverse excerpts: a 68mm film from 1897, early Mexican tv commercials, a 1934 variety revue, a Baltimore breakdance competition, a 1965 public service announcement for Wellington, New Zealand, some 8mm home movies, footage from Incandescent Love, a 1939 Hungarian animated short, and Jack Lemmon’s first screen appearance. Eighteen items in all, which you can read about here. Watchers of TCM caught the program on December 3rd, and it might repeat there sometime in 2022.
The next part of my ASN coverage is a gathering of comments from some of the submitters, but first a big thank you to Brittan Dunham, an archives and digital asset Management consultant, and Genevieve Havemeyer-King, the Media Preservation Coordinator at The New York Public Library, who organized this unique material.
John Larsen is the digital media archivist for the Minnesota Historical Center in St. Paul, one of the 31 sites and museums run by the Minnesota Historical Society. AMIA reached out to the society, in Larsen’s words,
to specifically use Bobcat a Go-Go (a trade show promotional film that juxtaposes the dance moves of a scantily-clad dancer and the Bobcat loader) for the screening night. I believe a copy of the film was previously used in an AMIA screening from the Smithsonian’s Bobcat Co. collection, but they were unable to assist this time around. We just happened to have another copy in our Preston Implement Company film collection donated by Sheldon Preston, who ran his company in East Grand Forks. His films are mostly footage of farm equipment out in the fields, but then there was this unexpected oddity! There is also a rumor that the go-go dancer featured in the film went on to marry a Bobcat Co. executive.
Since its arrival in 2017. Bobcat has been an absolute favorite of many at the Minnesota Historical Society. The film is in quite rough shape. The color is very faded and most of the sprockets in the first half have long been torn off from repeat viewings. We have a Lasergraphics Scanstation Personal for HD transfers, but without the sprockets to determine frames during scanning, the image kept drifting during digitization. Thankfully we were able to send it off to Metropolis Post in New York, who produced a new transfer just in time for the roadshow screening.”
McKenzie Green works as the lead scanner operator and head of the film lab at the Sherman Grinberg Film Library, in the Los Angeles suburbs. She was a volunteer there until she was hired this August. Pathe News Invades General Electric Experimental Laboratory was her first ever submission, although the company has had footage in earlier ASNs. It’s a quirky silent film about the wonders of electricity. In Green’s words,
I selected this playful and dynamic film for ASN because it highlights the whimsy and potential magic of technology through the eyes of the past as technology has become a mundane part of everyday contemporary life, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I love footage of people playing around with old tools, experimenting with technology, and having a good time in front of the camera, which I felt that this piece delivered. The film was produced in 1927 by the American Pathe News, Inc. and has been part of the Sherman Grinberg Film Library’s collection since the late 1950s.”
Lynanne Schweighofer is a Preservation Specialist in the Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress, where she has worked since 2004. The Library’s preservation staff works out of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. She encourages people to peruse the National Screening Room. Schweighofer notes that
there are all sorts of film titles to investigate from newsreels to cartoons and anything in between. One fun title we have in the screening room is the original Montgomery and Ward RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. These titles are available to download right from the site so it is a great resource for programming and education.”
The Library’s ASN offering was Caldonia, a short musical film released by Astor Pictures in 1945. It was then one of the few all-negro productions to get bookings in white theaters. The film has Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five singing one of their hit songs. According to Jordan,
A call was put out among staff to make suggestions for ASN, preferably something recently scanned that could fit in the time constraints. This Astor short came to mind, as I had run across it during other research and remember the nitrate print had a fine-looking scan. The story tying together the musical numbers in the short together is one of a local producer trying to convince Louis Jordan to make a motion picture in Harlem, not Hollywood. A film about making a film seemed like a fun suggestion. The entire short was too long for the screening, but the opening number fit the suggested time and it really swings!
It is our hope at the Library to put the entire short on the National Screening Room some time in 2022.”
Since 1990 Dennis Doros, AMIA’s immediate past president, and his wife, Amy Heller, are the vice-president and president, respectively of Milestone Film & Video in Harrington Park, New Jersey. They collectively selected their entry, a reel from an Oscar-winning animator. According to Doros,
We always are looking for something to provide ASN as it is one of our favorite events of the year. While working on a new release of John Canemaker’s collected animation and documentary work, the first question we always ask our directors is, ‘What else do you have?’ John was cleaning out his NYU office and told us about a 16mm reel of his commercials that he acted in back in the 1960s. We asked him to digitize them and we loved them so much that we thought he and his work would be perfect for ASN.”
Canemaker as an actor appeared in some wonderful 1960s television commercials, including a stint as the Armour Hot Dog man. Dennis’s favorite thrill harkens back to the 2019 program, when Milestone provided outtakes from Say Amen, Somebody, the 1982 documentary featuring the founders of gospel music. The legendary Barrett Sisters closed out that year’s program with “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
So, are you sorry you missed it? Check out AMIA at its website. The latest Roadshow edition is still available for theatrical bookings, but it won’t be made available online. An encore of the show is planned for AMIA members in early 2022.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).