- Editor’s Foreword
Having just returned from the Orphans Film Symposium in Columbia, South Carolina, I can't but help writing about it here. Orphans 5 was dedicated to science, industry, and education, and although I only attended the first, fourth, and fifth conferences, I think my fellow "Orphanistas" (as Dan Streible likes to call the community he created) would agree, it was one of the best yet. Former AMIA board member Streible, who will be at New York University when this missive is published, is founder, organizer, and master of ceremonies at the four-day event, which has been headquartered at the University of South Carolina since 1999.
Bringing together an eclectic mix of independent filmmakers, moving image archivists, film and digital laboratory technicians, academics, and students, the Orphanistas screen films around a particular topic, present lectures, and discuss all manner of archival trends, historical narratives, and film genres. The day begins at 9 am and ends shortly before 11 pm, with relatively short breaks for lunch and dinner. For those who haven't had enough, small-gauge screenings continue informally from midnight until as late as 5 am in the hotel hospitality suite. This year the room was still packed on Friday night until at least 2 am, with mostly the younger crowd in attendance, although a few veterans were also to be seen.
The subject was science films, industrial films, institutional films, sponsored films, educational films, advertising films, teaching films, medical films, government films, indeed all those genres broadly termed "informational" by British film documentarist Paul Rotha. The original impetus for the conference focus came from the planning and development of a database project, "Industrial, Institutional & Sponsored Films: A Field [End Page vi] Guide," spearheaded by Rick Prelinger, that catalogs and gives descriptors for more than a thousand titles. A whole session was in fact dedicated to a theoretical and practical discussion of the guide, which has now been published.
Around that core, Orphans 5 developed a model for institutional cooperation in our field, involving the National Film Preservation Board, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and other funders for financial support; numerous moving image archives, including George Eastman House, Nederlands Filmmuseum, the United States Holocaust Museum, and the Library of Congress, that made film material accessible; laboratories such as Film Technology, Cineric, Colorlab, Summit Film, and Haghefilm that conducted pro bono lab work; and a motley crew of presenters who introduced their research or, in the case of filmmakers, their creations. The very heterogeneity of this critical mass guaranteed that the outcome would interrogate issues involving film technology and preservation, history, the creation of canons, media accessibility, and the sociology and political construction of producers and audiences.
At this year's Orphans symposium there seemed to be a palpable sense of excitement that the event was really onto something new. Although the genres in question have been with us since moving image collection and preservation began, it is equally true that they have been and still are sorely neglected: within the archives, because they were often 16mm and thought either nonarchival or "just" projection prints; in academia, because many of them were considered propaganda or merely educational, not having the cultural cachet of either Hollywood or film art. The nonexistence of reference works complicated both archival and academic progress. It has always been with a strong sense of frustration that I have conducted research on industrial films, attempting to identify [End Page vii] archival material with incomplete credits or to write about a particular producer of industrials, given the almost total absence of reference works for industrials and other sponsored films. The nontheatrical 16mm educational film catalogs published by Penn State and Indiana Universities in the 1960s through the '80s, among others, were some of the few sources available. The Internet-based "Field Guide" promises to deliver some relief.
Second, as Don Crafton described it, industrials, sponsored, and institutional films offered a heretofore unmined field, rich in intellectual content. The sheer vastness of the subject, penetrating history, economics, sociology, political science, technology, science, education, media, medicine, intellectual history, and aesthetics, guarantee that serious inquiry will yield seismic changes to film and media studies. More...