The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

Finding Films

While working on a chapter on teaching with primary source sound and film for the book I’m writing, I discovered the Web site of the National Film Preservation Foundation. The non-profit NFPF has been supporting film preservation for about ten years, and in 2007 it started giving out grants to help libraries, museums, and archives across the nation preserve films. So far, NFPF has funded preservation of 1,270 films in 44 states and Puerto Rico. You can search them by title, date, program, or archive. The following titles give an idea of the great variety of films:

  • Buckwheat (1974), documentary short featuring celebrated storyteller Ray Hicks showing how to reap buckwheat, telling stories, and playing harmonica (East Tennessee State University, Archives of Appalachia).
  • The Daughter of Dawn (1920), recently discovered “lost” feature made in Oklahoma with a Native American cast (Oklahoma Historical Society).
  • Jackie Robinson Workout Footage (1945), profile of the baseball star shot prior to his signing by the Los Angeles Dodgers (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library).
  • San Idelfonso-Buffalo and Cloud Dances (1929), ceremonial dance performance filmed by Ansel Adams’ wife Virginia (New Mexico State Records Center and Archives).
  • Sweeter by the Dozen (ca. 1950), a day in the life of the second graders at the Los Angeles Westlake School for Girls, by amateur filmmaker Herbert Sturdy (Northeast Historic Film).

Normally, I stick to American Memory collections because I always know that their resources will be available online. The wonderful films in the list above do not have links for easy viewing, so I wrote to NFPF to inquire about how to view any of them. I received an immediate reply from Projects Assistant Ihsan Amanatullah, who explained, “Some of the institutions we have awarded grants to have made their films available online to the general public (or plan to do so). It is up to each archive to decide if they will give online access to the films they have preserved with our support.” Sadly, there is no master list of films available online.

Mr. Amanatullah provided me with some links to films available online, but in general, someone who wants to find films from the list that they can view online must follow the Web site links provided to each institution and search within that collection. I did watch a 1928 amateur film from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that showed an area near Verdun, France just ten years after the end of World War I. It included views of acres and acres of white crosses in cemeteries, an overturned German tank, and film of some local people going about their business.

I was really impressed with the award-winning series of three DVD boxed sets offered for sale by the National Film Preservation Foundation, and I think they would be well worth the cost to add to a school library collection. I even wrote to my local public library to ask them to consider adding it to their collections! It can’t hurt to try.



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