While you were busy comparison shopping between a Kindle and a Nook this past month, paper books were still being published, including Daniel Eagan's America’s Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry. He spoke about his review of the first 500 films to be placed on the National Film Registry on WNYC's On The Media last week:
Coincidentally, the list of the 25 films added to the Registry for 2009 was just released today and includes works ranging from Sergio Leone's epic Once Upon a Time in the West to Helen Hill's student animation Scratch and Crow. We would be remiss here not to also mention the National Recording Preservation Board which has its own National Registry of significant audio recordings.
The U.S. doesn't have the mandatory repository system that many other nations do, so institutions and mechanisms like the National Registries and the National Preservation Boards are extremely important for identifying significant works and making sure that they are cared for. As is mentioned in the interview, one never knows what or when a work will become considered culturally significant, and many of the films on the registry are orphan or non-commercial works (and for the sake of underlining the extra special attention these kinds of works need we'll pretend for a minute that all studios have always preserved their productions to the utmost). Without the support and interest generated by inclusion on the Registry, many of these films would remain at high risk for loss.
Of course this is the fun part of preservation -- the lists and the memories and the amazement and the arguments over what is important or the best. This is what helps expose our work to the wider public, but it's important to remember that the National Film and National Recording Preservation Boards are doing a lot of other work that needs support. They help establish standards and best practices for archiving and preservation; they conduct reports on the state of the field; they interact with Congress to garner more funding and support or adopt laws and acts that make our work easier. Archives can be decidedly local, but staying aware of or involved with what these national institutions are doing is one step towards becoming a better advocate and custodian for a collection.
--- Joshua Ranger