Making its largest single charitable contribution to date, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has pledged $250,000 to jump-start the newly formed National Film Preservation Foundation.
The congressionally mandated foundation will raise money and provide grants to U.S. film archives for the preservation of “orphan films” — those whose copyrights are not owned by any commercial entity.
At a Beverly Hills breakfast Thursday, Acad president Robert Rehme presented foundation chairman Roger Mayer with a check for $100,000, the first of four payments to be delivered over the next four years.
The gift will kick off an industry-wide fundraising effort that Mayer, Turner Entertainment president and chief operating officer, will head, along with CAA agent John Ptak, Disney exec VP John Cooke and director Martin Scorsese.
“This grant will in effect pay our overhead for the next 18 months or so, and allow us to go out and get the big money,” said Mayer.
With a lean staff of between six and eight employees, the foundation will seek donations from studios, post-production houses, labs, agencies and others in the film community, as well as charitable groups that have traditionally funded the arts.
“The studios are restoring their own films for re-release,” said Mayer. “We’re asking them to do a public service and provide funds for films which have no protector.”
The targeted projects include features in the public domain, newsreels and documentaries, as well as ethnic and regional films.
The foundation was established as part of the National Film Preservation Act of 1996. Beginning in two years, the federal government will provide matching funds of up to $250,000.
Cause had support
According to Rehme, Congress wanted first to see that the cause had the support of the motion picture industry. For years, studios simply destroyed or recycled film prints while neglecting deteriorating negatives and other original elements.
Today, it’s estimated that more than 50% of feature films made before 1950 and more than 80% of silent-era films are lost forever.
“That’s why I felt — and the board of governors wholeheartedly agreed — that it was important to make this commitment,” said Rehme. “We have to show that we in Hollywood support this, and what better place to start than the Academy.”
The Academy is already active in the preservation of film, through its 25,000-title Academy Film Archive.
Public awareness about the need for film preservation is a relatively recent phenomenon, said Mayer. “For a long time we couldn’t convince people that film had artistic or historical significance.”
He credited the work of the American Film Institute, the Film Foundation headed by Scorsese and the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, which annually selects 25 films for preservation.
But Mayer said the biggest factor in the increased emphasis on film preservation is audiences’ hunger for classic movies, particularly on TV and video.