UW Today

This is an archived article.

June 25, 2009

Lost and found films: Can you help UW Libraries learn more about these vintage screen gems?

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You can almost hear the old-style projectors rattle along as you view these vintage films. You see horn-rimmed glasses, haircuts and fashions from decades past as the old-style black and white and color images move along.


But — what the heck’s going on in these clips? Maybe you can help UW Libraries Special Collections learn exactly that. Watch the films at Uweek.org and see.


The UW Audio Visual Services Materials Library has more than 1,200 reels of film from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, documenting life at the University through telecourses, commercial films and original productions, according to a press release from the library. Some of the short films are easily identifiable, but many more remain mysteries. Who shot these films and why?


Hannah Palin, film archives specialist with UW Special Collections, is on a yearlong contract to help identify old films shot on or for the UW campus. She said the division is now trying to learn as much as they can about these old films so that clips from the films can be put up on the UW Libraries Digital Collections site. (Visit online at http://content.lib.washington.edu/filmarchweb/index.html).


“The sesquicentennial of the UW is coming up, and we wanted to get these images up so that people could use them, enjoy them and research them if they want to,” Palin said. “We have run into an awful lot of material that would be called ‘orphan film,’ meaning films that are outside of the commercial mainstream, have been neglected, or that lack documentation.”


UWeek will be helping with this. So check the Uweek home page — we’ll offer another vintage film with every issue, and readers/viewers can use the new comments field to provide what information they can. It’s like a Wiki approach to film archiving.


This week’s film features penguins swimming along, clearly under UW study. Dee Boersma, the UW’s international expert in penguins, has seen this week’s film (and she promises that no penguins were harmed in the making of this film), but questions remain. Why was the film taken? How was it used?


In coming weeks you’ll see more such “orphan” footage — scientists with bubbling beakers, fish biologists casting nets in the Sound, people building a house, and more.


Watch next time for the one UW Libraries has titled “Mission Impractical.” In it, a man lights — and very nearly smokes — a sparkler and shuffles through photographs in the style of the opening scene of the old Mission Impossible TV series.


So keep watching. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to help figure out what these old films are all about.