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October 11, 2007

Historical film screening slated: Program includes mix of humorous, entertaining and odd

News and Information

The first public screening of historic films from the UW Libraries Special Collections will feature an eclectic mix of the humorous, entertaining and odd.

An evening of the UW Libraries’ “Selected Shorts” will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 27, at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave. Admission is $5.

“The Northwest Film Forum has an interest in historic films, so we thought this was a good fit,” says Hannah Palin, film archives specialist, who along with Nicolette Bromberg, curator of visual materials, is in charge of finding ways to preserve and make available thousands of reels of film that have come to the UW (see our earlier story).

The evening will include short films from the 1930s through the 1970s, including glimpses of the famous, such as Pablo Picasso (appearing in a film about refugees from the Spanish Civil War who escaped to France), and the obscure, such as Farmer Frank Jones (who demonstrates the virtues of harvestable timber in Washington). Most of the films are rare or one of a kind and have not been available for public viewing in decades.

Other highlights include:


  • a three-minute peanut butter commercial in which an owl puppet sings about the product to a very active worm (to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”);
  • a 1960s-era public service announcement urging viewers to be nice to people with mental illness;
  • a magic carpet ride through Washington state as it was in 1939;
  • a surreal, semi-animated children’s story warning about the dangers that can lurk inside the average home;
  • a series of public service announcements produced by the Urban League more than 35 years ago , including, “White Wash,” “Construction Workers” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”;
  • a commercial for the “Save the Pike Place Market” campaign in 1971;
  • a short documentary about the salmon industry, taking the fish from its life struggles to the cannery. This film won honors at the Edinburgh International Film Festival of 1960.

The UW Libraries’ Historical Film Collection has received a grant from The Libraries Twenty-First Century Fund to preserve and display some of the short subjects in the screening.

“We picked films based on a number of criteria,” says Palin. “We wanted to show short films which told a story. We also focused on films that were entertaining or perhaps a little strange.”

The UW has no permanent budget for film preservation, so the work relies primarily on grant funding which has enabled the preservation of previously neglected moving image materials. The Special Collections Division has spearheaded several collaborative projects with local institutions such as the Seattle Municipal Archives, the Museum of History and Industry and the Yakama Nation. Full preservation requires transferring old films to new film. But because this process can cost hundreds of dollars per reel, less costly measures, such as cleaning the film, moving the reels onto archival plastic cores, and rehousing the film in archival containers that won’t rust, are often a good compromise. In addition, more than 75 films have been transferred to videotape and made accessible to the public.

Historic film preservation at the UW began in earnest about six years ago, when a Friends of the Library grant supported the establishment of a film suite, the purchase of viewing equipment and the acquisition of other basic materials. Some UW films have been shown on the Seattle Channel and are available on the station’s Web site.

A second screening of additional material is being scheduled for January at Northwest Film Forum.