Curtis Hanson first confronted the fragility of film when he was only 19 and working as the editor, writer and photographer for Cinema magazine.
“That was my film school,” Hanson says. “Here I was a young kid interviewing William Wyler, (Vincente) Minnelli and other legendary directors about their work. I talked with John Ford from his sick bed about the silent films he made, but all we had to look at were still photos because the prints were unavailable or didn’t exist.”
An eye-opening experience for Hanson, the issue took on even greater significance as these filmmakers died. “The more I became aware of the mortality of these artists the more important it was that their work survive,” he says. “The way a painter’s work lives on after his death, so too should these films. Both for their historical and cultural value but also because they encourage us to ask and expect more from filmmakers today.”
When Hanson started directing his own films and working with the labs, his knowledge of the technical aspects of film was enhanced. He would make film history and preservation a personal cause, speaking about it at screenings at museums and film festivals.
After years of attending film screenings there, Hanson was invited to serve as honorary chairman of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, where he continued his efforts and created the Movie That Inspired Me screening series, where Sean Penn, Diane Keaton, Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Mann have selected films and attended post-screening Q&As, with Hanson serving as moderator.
“He has been a passionate champion for the cause and it is certainly a pleasure to have this opportunity to publicly acknowledge his dedication to ensuring our motion picture heritage survives,” says Martin Scorsese, a founder of the Film Foundation.
In its 13-year history, the foundation has been involved in the preservation and restoration of more than 200 pictures including classics like “On the Waterfront” and “It Happened One Night.”
In 2002, the foundation consolidated with the Directors Guild of America’s Artists Rights Foundation, and is championing a national educational initiative, the Story of Movies, to teach film appreciation to middle school students at four pilot sites in the U.S.
“From the beginning the DGA has cared about the creative rights of the artists and film preservation is a logical extension of that effort,” Hanson says.
For the helmer, it’s a two-fold effort. There’s the preservation of films, TV shows and newsreels, which the UCLA archive is doing on its own, and the DGA has helped to build a conservation collection where studios signatory to the guild agreement must donate a mint-condition print of every film made in a given year to the archive. Then they must be shown.
“There’s no sense in preserving films if you’re not going to exhibit them because it’s through the window of documentaries, newsreels or movies, that we see how people lived and how they dreamed,” Hanson says. “The work of past artists not only entertains but also instructs and inspires the artists of the future.”