Academy’s Pickford Center offers a film mecca … and a museum prelude

Nearing its 10th anniversary celebration, the film academy’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study presented itself in winning fashion today, while also whetting the appetite for the proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax tomorrow.

On Sept. 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will open its doors for a behind-the-scenes look at the Pickford Center, the org’s all-in-one center for conservation, research and more at the corner of Vine and Fountain. A preview of that event for reporters today proved that the indispensable Pickford is a must-see event on any film-centered expedition.

The Claud Beelman-designed building offers a room-by-room journey through the world of film. Most of the physical space is devoted to the careful storage of films in spaces converted from the oldest dedicated television studio in Los Angeles. Temperatures in those rooms are kept as low as 45 degrees, depending on the substance of the film itself, with an Ingergen fire-suppression system that principally converts oxygen to carbon dioxide rather than using water. 

NitrateThe Academy’s storage philosophy is exemplified by its Film to Film project, which aims to preserve cinema as it was originally produced while taking into account that digital preservation approaches have not been not perfected.

“The price and availability of the technology we need to preserve is difficult to obtain and expensive” in an increasingly digital age, said Academy managing director of programming, education and preservation Randy Haberkamp, who noted the onrushing decline in the actual use of film. As but one example, compared with 8,000 release prints of the fifth Harry Potter movie, there were 2,500 for the last.

JacketTucked away in rooms here and there throughout the Pickford are fascinating aspects of the Academy’s yearlong non-Oscar operation, from the maintenance of films for loan (more than 500 last year) to the curation of all kinds of memorabilia. On display during the tour was a set of the most recent imports — materials from the collection of Harpo Marx, including his famed, multipocketed jacket and blonde wig and chapeau.

In addition, the Pickford offers a home for the Academy’s Science and Technology Council to forge ahead on matters that directly affect filmmakers of the present and future, such as improvements on the properties of color we see onscreen.

All of this operates in relative anonymity and to a relatively select audience. The Academy Museum, which is targeting October for the completion of the first phase of its fundraising campaign to move into the former May Co. building on the LACMA campus, would dramatically expand the org’s profile. The case statement for the museum can be found here, and it’s hard not to be seduced by the promise.

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  1. Troy says:

    Film history buffs may appreciate that the South Dakota Film Festival is hosting a retrospective to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the filming of Thunderheart in our host state. Tribeca’s Jane Rosenthal and Graham Greene are so far attending.

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