UW News

July 9, 2009

Lost and found films: Will you accept this ‘Mission Impractical’?

Editor’s Note: 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. Some of the short films are easily identifiable, but many more remain mysteries. Who shot these films and why? Can you help answer those questions? Faculty, staff and retirees can log in to UW News+Community using the link at the end of this article to send their ideas. Those outside the University can e-mail filmarc@u.washington.edu.

This week’s mystery film opens with a hand lighting a match to a sparkler and also includes a tape recording “self-destructing” in a puff of smoke. If you’re old enough to remember the TV series Mission Impossible, you’ll recognize this as a takeoff; it’s titled Mission Impractical. After the opening, the man looks around an empty stadium and seems to be searching for something. At one point he picks up a folder full of photographs — a series of portrait shots of men in suits — and goes through them one by one.

The film was in a collection of films shot by John Snedden, who was employed at the University as a photographer. He is assumed to be the director, but the library would like to confirm that that’s true. They’d also like to know why the film was made and how it was used. Who were the men in the photographs? And what is the significance of a fire that appears in the end?

Our clip is just over two minutes long, edited down from an original five minute film. It is silent and was shot on 16 millimeter film in about 1967.

Hannah Palin, film archives specialist with UW Special Collections, didn’t get any definite answers about why the penguin in last week’s film was on a treadmill (see http://uwnews.org/uweek/article.aspx?id=50586), but she did get some good ideas from readers.

“I haven’t had a chance to follow through on the suggestion of identifying the ship, which might give a clue as to who sponsored the experiment, because the ship’s markings are hard to read on the videotaped image. So when I have a moment, I’ll go back to the original film and see if I can glean anything that way,” she said.

Palin said she had gotten a lot of positive feedback about the series in general, including an offer from the director of the retirement center to involve retirees in providing information about the films.

So have a look at Mission Impractical to see if you can provide any clues for Palin. And stay tuned in coming weeks for other “orphan” films.