May 16, 2009

Archivists on a Mission to Save Orphan Films at the Museo del Cine, Buenos Aires

Text from an NYU press release describing what the Orphan Film Project will be up to for the next two weeks.  May 23-29 also includes attending the International Federal of Film Archives (FIAF) events in Buenos Aires.

temporary location of the Museo del Cine collections. 

A team of film archivists from the United States under the direction of New York University’s Dan Streible, associate professor in the Department of Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts and associate director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program (MIAP), will travel to Buenos Aires this month to help the Museo del Cine preserve its orphan films.  A small, under-funded city institution, the Museo holds a large and important collection of rare motion pictures, many in urgent need of preservation.

The all-volunteer team of 12 includes preservationists from the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard Film Archive, the University of Chicago, BB Optics film lab, as well as NYU faculty, staff, and students.  Co-organizers of the project are NYU alumnae Paula Félix-Didier (MIAP ’06), director of the Museo del Cine, and Natalia Fidelholtz (MIAP ’06).

The Museo del Cine collection is vast and comprises more than 65,000 reels of 16mm film alone.  The films come from all over the Americas and Europe, produced as early as 1910 and as late as the 1960s. In 2008, Félix-Didier made international headlines when she uncovered a silent-era masterpiece long presumed lost—the "director’s cut" of the German film Metropolis (1927).  She and her staff are finding other “lost” films from early Hollywood and elsewhere as the collection gets inspected. 

“We’re on an archivists-without-borders mission and our group is a kind of dream team for a film archive,” said Streible.  The team will spend two weeks (May 17-30) in Buenos Aires and devote its time to the meticulous work of archiving. Films will be inventoried, inspected, repaired, identified, catalogued, and rehoused, with the most valuable finds prepared for laboratory preservation. All work will be done in collaboration with the museum’s staff of five, who will also receive training with supplies and equipment they have previously lacked.

The Buenos Aires project is part of NYU’s Audio-Visual Preservation Exchange (APEX), which was established by Mona Jimenez, associate arts professor in the Department of Cinema Studies and associate director of MIAP, in 2008 to conduct a similar outreach in Accra, Ghana.  Jimenez is currently in Accra again, conducting archival training workshops for local broadcasters, filmmakers, and cultural organizations.  Joining her are Kara Van Malssen (NYU Libraries / MIAP '06), Ishumael Zinyengere (audiovisual archivist for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania), Jennifer Blaylock (MIAP '10), and Mick Newnham (senior researcher at the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia).

The results of both the Ghana and Argentina initiatives to preserve neglected but significant moving image works will be  showcased at the 7th Orphan Film Symposium, April 7-10, 2010, at the Library of Congress, National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Streible organizes this international gathering of orphanistas (archivists, artists, and academics), all of whom work to save, screen, and study a wide variety of at-risk films.  Any film that has suffered neglect and falls outside of the commercial mainstream can be designated an “orphan.” For more on the symposium visit

The Buenos Aires project has received generous support from Kodak, Urbanski Film, Tuscan Corp., Colorlab, Cineric, as well as NYU Libraries, Harvard Film Archive, University of Chicago Film Study Center, the John Anson Kittredge Educational Fund, and professional archivists donating their time, labor, and expertise.


NYU participants 

Dan Streible, Orphan Film Symposium Director

Howard Besser, professor in Cinema Studies; MIAP Director

Bill Brand, adjunct professor in Cinema Studies; owner of BB Optics

Alice Moscoso, audio-visual preservationist, NYU Libraries

Kimberly Tarr, MIAP ’09


NYU alumni participants

Daniela Bajar, Cinema Studies M.A. ’08

Sarah Resnick, MIAP ’07

Natalia Fidelholtz, MIAP ’06

Paula Félix-Didier, Museo del Cine, Directora, and MIAP ’06


Other participants

Liz Coffey, Harvard Film Archive, Conservator

Katie Trainor, Museum of Modern Art, Film Collections Manager

Carolyn Faber, Chicago archivist/consultant

Julia Gibbs, University of Chicago Film Study Center

Katy Martin, visual artist/curator


Consulting on-site

Haden Guest, Harvard Film Archive, Director 

Paolo Cherchi Usai, Haghefilm Foundation

Stefan Drößler, Munich Film Museum, Director

Mark Toscano, Academy Film Archive, Preservationist


# # #