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Preserving The Works Of Marcel Ophul To Joan Crawford: The Reel Thing

Attendees arrive to enjoy the LA edition of The Reel Thing.

Attendees at the annual The Reel Thing conference, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences August 20-22nd were treated to a highly truncated version of Marcel Ophul’s “The Memory of Justice.” The crowd, composed of a who’s who of color timers, archivists, DITs and other film professionals concerned about the future of content of all sorts, were teased with the first seven minutes of the fully restored four and a half hour film.

“I could discuss our process of preservation itself for over an hour,” said Mike Pogorzelski, Director, Academy Film Archives. “We know you all would love to see the full film today, but unfortunately we don’t have the extra four hours in our schedule.”

Pogorzelski, along with fellow Academy film archivist Heather Linville and The Film Foundation’s Jennifer Ahr, presented a special panel dedicated to “The Memory of Justice” and its upcoming screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. If a feature film can take several years to complete all aspects of restoration, “The Memory of Justice” presented a unique challenge alone in its extended length. It was just one of the three aspects that complicated the preservation process.

“There were three key issues,” said Pogorzelski. “We were working with a second generation print, we had a running time of two feature films, and the third issue was that the film could never be screening in public.”

The film had over 318 visual cues and 19 music cues that needed clearances. The Film Foundation spent nearly three years hunting down individuals who held the rights, stumbling over obstacles such as closed down businesses and deceased individuals in their quest. Working towards acquiring rights for “private screening purposes” only – a provision that limits the film’s screening to primarily festivals or educational programs at colleges and universities – they were able to hunt down individuals for every clearance, including World War II film footage, turn of the century music recordings, and promotional posters that hung in people’s offices.

“There was an image of Fred Astaire in the film. If the image had been cleared originally, the files were no longer available, so we had to obtain a new clearance,” said Ahr. “The most challenging aspect was hunting down the right holders for those businesses that were brought and sold a few times over the years.”

After the all too brief screening of the seven minute intro to “The Memory of Justice,” Jayson Wall, Project Manager of Studio Mastering for The Walt Disney Company spent outlining the complicated history behind the creation of the Disneyland theme park. The complications of the park’s development emphasized the importance of preserving the video components of the live presentation of “Dateline Disney” – the ABC program that was presented to celebrate Walt Disney’s “risky venture.”

After fighting to build his park in Burbank, Disney was turned down by the city council who stated “We don’t want that carney atmosphere in Burbank.” Purchasing some oranges and walnut groves that were for sale in Anaheim, Disney had divested most of his funding to film and animation released in the early 50s and didn’t have the extra money to build the park. After looking at a number of sponsors, including the much more established NBC, ABC Broadcasting, then covering only a tiny region of the US, offered to fund the park in exchange for television rights and part of the park’s returns. ABC decided a special dedication to the theme park would draw huge audiences and decided on creating a live program. Four studio hubs were built through the park, with a major broadcasting center near the parking lot.

“There was enough equipment to build twelve network stations brought in for this broadcast,” said Wall.

Special stands and carts were built to move cameras through the park and lift equipment into the air for sweeping shoots. However, the time spent building and prepping the equipment didn’t leave any extra time for rehearsals. The program that aired July 17, 1955 not only drew huge crowds to ABC, but also cemented Disneyland as a tourist destination for years to come.

In addition to panels that outlined the importance of the archive quality presented in the ACES process, the benefit of Super 8 as a modern vehicle to ensure film has an audience with modern filmmakers and new archival processes such as the “Button” – a one touch restoration tool that can do sweeping cleaning and color changes with the touch of one button (eliminating years spent on a frame to frame process), The Reel Thing also presented three major screenings: “Fat City”, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Johnny Guitar.” If you missed the conference, have no fear – it turns around the country! Visit their website to learn the next stop on the tour: