Preserving Old Films

September 21, 2004 1 min read

When budget constraints forced officials of the St. Louis public schools to close the district’s audiovisual department, district archivist Sharon Huffman started hunting for a new home for nearly 2,100 orphaned 16-millimeter school films.

“We needed to find a suitable place for the collection,” said Ms. Huffman, who posted the offer on a listserv for librarians and audiovisual professionals.

She said she received a “small avalanche” of replies, but the 38,000-student district didn’t want the collection to go to just anyone. The school board wanted it to remain in the city, go to a nonprofit organization, and be available to the public.

The Academic Film Archive of North America, a San Jose, Calif.-based organization that preserves old films and has a satellite office in St. Louis, fit the bill.

The district’s 50-year-old film collection—which includes documentaries, art films, and informational clips—can now be viewed at the Mad Art Gallery, a restored art deco former police station in St. Louis.

Margie Newman, an Academic Film Archive board member, said that the district’s film collection represents an important era in the history of American education.

“This is a genre that’s almost too new to be old,” she said, noting that the films were made between the 1930s and the 1980s. “Having dealt with these films for two years, I’ve really come to appreciate how culturally important they are. They really tell the story of who we are.”

—Marianne D. Hurst