The Harvard Film Archive is committed to preserving moving image materials on their original formats when possible. This meticulous work is often performed in collaboration with filmmakers as well as with the staff of fellow film archives around the world, and is done at a small number of specialized film laboratories. Film-to-film preservation work is most often undertaken on materials within the HFA's Artists' and Exhibition Collections.
The HFA is increasingly relying on digital means to preserve and provide access to both film and analog video materials within the Research Collection in an effort to make content as accessible as possible. When legal and ethical guidelines allow, we strive to make digital materials available online. Digital content can be found embedded in Collection Profiles on the HFA website, linked to records in the Hollis and Hollis for Archival Discovery catalogs, and within the Harvard Digital Collections portal.
A sampling of preservation and digitization projects are highlighted below.
33 Yo-Yo Tricks
Directed by P. White. US, 1976, 16mm, 8 min. Preserved with National Film Preservation Foundation Grant.
Abigail Child Collection
16mm film-to-film preservation of five of Abigail Child's classic experimental films made possible through a grant from the Film Foundation administered by the National Film Preservation Foundation.
- Pacific Far East Line (1979)
- Peripeteia I (1977)
- Peripeteia II (1978)
- Prefaces (1981)
- Mutiny (1983)
Aldo Tambellini Collection
16mm film-to-film preservation of several films by poet, painter, sculptor and pioneering multi-media artist Aldo Tambellini made possible through a grant from the Film Foundation administered by the National Film Preservation.
The Black Films:
- Black Is (1966)
- Black Plus X (1966)
- Black Trip #1 (1965)
- Black Trip #2 (1966)
- Black TV (1969)
- Blackout (1966)
Black projection performance films:
- Sunblack (ca. 1966)
- Black '67 (1967)
- Black Spiral (1969)
Directed by Ed Pincus. US 1982, 16mm, color, 200 min. Preserved in 2019 with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
By the early 1970s... [t]he women’s movement and the on-going struggle for black liberation were assuming that “the personal is the political,” and in an attempt to see if this held true for his own experience, Pincus began what would become his magnum opus: Diaries (1971-76). His plan: to cinematically investigate his own (open) marriage and family life during what was an experimental and turbulent time, to shoot footage for five years; then wait another five years before finally editing the footage into a finished film. This plan was adhered to, though Pincus’ willingness to share rushes and early rough cuts of passages of the material became a primary – perhaps the primary – instigation for what is now called the “personal documentary.” Diaries (1971-76) remains one of the masterworks of the genre, and Pincus’ breakthrough has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the films of Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, Miriam Weinstein, Nina Davenport, Jonathan Caouette, Lucia Small and many others. – Scott MacDonald
George Kuchar Collection
The HFA has preserved several films by prolific underground filmmaking phenomenon George Kuchar.
San Francisco Art Institute classroom collaborations:
- One Night a Week (1978)
- The Asphalt Ribbon (ca. 1978)
- The Power of the Press (1977)
- Motel Capri (1986)
- Club Vatican (1984)
- The Carnal Bipeds (1973)
Harvard Film Archive / Pacific Film Archive collaborations:
- I, an Actress (1977)
- A Wild Night in El Reno (1977)
Helen Hill Collection
Many films by Helen Hill—experimental animator, filmmaker, educator, artist, writer and social activist—have been preserved in collaboration with Colorlab and the Orphan Film Symposium:
- Raindance (1990)
- Vessel (1992)
- World's Smallest Fair (1995)
- Scratch and Crow (1995)
- Tunnel of Love (1996)
- Your New Pig is Down the Road (1999)
- Film for Rosie (2000)
- Mouseholes (1999)
- Madame Winger Makes a Film: A Survival Guide to the 21st Century (2001)
- Bohemian Town (2004)
Preserved in collaboration with Colorlab and the Center for Home Movies:
- Helen Hill's home movies
Oidhche Sheanchais (A Night of Storytelling)
Directed by Robert Flaherty. With Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin, Maggie Dirrane, Michaeleen Dillane. Ireland 1935, 35mm, black & white, 12 min.
Gaelic with English subtitles. Preserved in collaboration with Harvard's Houghton Library and the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures.
A lost film until the 2013 discovery of a 35mm nitrate print at Harvard University, Robert Flaherty’s 1935 short film Oidhche Sheanchais offers a disarming and fascinating distillation of his ardent belief in cinema as a mythopoeic art and folkloric tradition. To record the soundtrack of Man of Aran Flaherty brought the principal members of his cast to London, inviting Colman “Tiger” King, Maggie Dirrane, Patch “Red Beard” Ruadh and young Michaeleen to retrospectively add dialogue, in English and in pre-Jean Rouch fashion, to select scenes of the film. During their extended stay in London Flaherty reassembled the nuclear family invented for Man of Aran for a second film commissioned by the Department of Education, gathering his four “actors” around a sound studio hearth, together with famed seanchai (story-teller) Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin. In striking contrast to Man of Aran, the resultant film, Oidhche Sheanchais, was recorded entirely in the dialect of the Aran Islands and is, in fact, considered the first talkie in the Irish language. Speaking and singing in their native tongue, Dirrane, Ruadh and especially O’Diorain deliver beautifully animated performances that bring a rare intimacy to Oidhche Sheanchais, making clear Flaherty’s unique relationship to his actors and giving new human dimension to these now legendary men, woman and child of Aran. – Haden Guest
Presenting Jane & Presenting Jane - Outtakes
Directed by John Latouche & Harrison Starr. US, 1953, 16mm, b/w. Preserved with the assistance of Harvard's Woodberry Poetry Room.
Rediscovered by John Ashbery’s biographer Karin Roffman and donated by the film's cinematographer Harrison Starr, Presenting Jane and its outtakes were preserved in 2014 after vanishing for over sixty years. The short, unfinished film features New York School poets John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler, along with their close friend and muse, painter Jane Freilicher, during a vacation to the Hamptons in the summer of 1952. The rough cut screened only once in Greenwich Village in 1953 with a live script reading by Schuyler. After the preservation in 2014, the Woodberry Poetry Room recorded a film commentary by Ashbery, Starr and Freilicher as they react to viewing the film decades after its creation.
Directed by Richard Rogers. US, 1970, 16mm, b/w, 12 min. Preserved in 2013 with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
This portrait of an abandoned quarry in Quincy, Massachusetts captures the striking natural beauty of the site as it explores the social rites of the young people who gather along its rugged shores to enjoy leisure in what was once a place of toil.
Sand, or Peter and the Wolf
Directed by Caroline Leaf. US, 1968, 16mm, b/w, 10 min. Preserved in 2007 with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Made while she was an undergraduate at Harvard, Leaf’s very first film Sand, or Peter and the Wolf immediately revealed her talent in “direct animation,” working without any kind of image background or structural armature but here instead “drawing” live by manipulating and sculpting sand on glass, a painstaking and elusive technique with truly magical results. Movement, character and environment are fused in a truly unique fashion in Leaf’s films, rendered with a startling immediate and intimate poetry. – Haden Guest
Thomas Bouchard Collection
Two titles from this collection were preserved in 2016 with the support of the National Film Preservation Foundation Federal Grant Program.
- Birth of a Painting: Kurt Seligmann (1950), documentation of the surrealist painter at work, filmed by Thomas Bouchard
- Fernand Léger in America: His New Realism (1945), Thomas Bouchard’s documentary on the Cubist artist’s last stateside visit
Untitled Norman Mailer Film
Directed by Norman Mailer. US, 1947, color & b/w, 9 min.
Shot and edited in the months leading up to the publication of his debut novel The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer's first foray into filmmaking, at age twenty-four, is a surprisingly assured, cinematically bold attempt at the surrealist-poetic cinema he became enamored with after the war. A regular through the 1950s at Amos and Marcia Vogel's Cinema 16, Mailer directed four features between the years 1967 and 1987, as well as having acted in films by Milos Forman, Jean-Luc Godard and Matthew Barney. The rediscovery and restoration of Mailer's first film starring the radiant Millicent Brower, a trained stage actress and one-time columnist for the Village Voice, helps shed new light on Mailer's cinematic ambition, clearly there from the start of his career, like some mercurial mistress to his literary muse. – Michael Chaiken