It’s not surprising to hear Robert Rosen express his gratitude to the Directors Guild of America. Not only is he being honored with the John Huston Award at its gala tonight, but he also joins an impressive lineup of past DGA honorees, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Curtis Hanson and the late Sydney Pollack.
The dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television may seem like an odd fit among such famed directors, but not when considering Rosen’s extensive work with the Film Foundation and his commitment to film preservation.
“The fact that it’s going to me reflects a principle decision to recognize that preservation is, in fact, an affirmation of artists’ rights,” Rosen says.
Rosen was instrumental in creating the Film Foundation with Scorsese in 1990, a nonprofit organization now affiliated with the DGA that merged with the Artists Rights council in 2002. His role with the foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive has inspired his life’s work: film preservation and restoration.
Rosen, who has been the director of archives at UCLA since 1975, says he remembers screening a newly restored print of the first Technicolor feature, “Becky Sharp,” for its director, Rouben Mamoulian. For the first time since 1935, the pic flickered onscreen in brilliant color, bringing tears to the director’s eyes, he remembers, and “the notion of saying to a director, ‘Hey, your work is up there, and it’s been brought back to life,’ was pretty cool.
“The first right that creative artists have is that their work survives,” Rosen insists. Yet not only survive, he amends, but survive in its original form.
He praises the DGA for its “moral weight to make a case for saving the movies.” He suggests there has been a change in mindset among industry moguls and artists, that film preservation and restoration has become a newly appreciated art form in its own right — a notion this latest nod supports.
“For me, personally, I could not imagine anything that is more important to me,” Rosen comments about the DGA’s acknowledgement. “But I keep trying to remind myself and others that I think it reflects on the work of the artists.” As Rosen suggests, the kudo is as much a nod to the artistry as it is a nod to the work itself, but also perhaps recognition for an art form finally receiving its due.