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Eastman House gets Merchant Ivory collection

Museum acquires archive materials of intl. production company

George Eastman House, the photography and film museum in Rochester, N.Y., has acquired the 2,600-element film collection of Merchant Ivory Prods., including more than 40 film titles and 1775 reels.

The gift, planned in association with James Ivory, will survey the entire multinational career of the production company, stretching over more than 40 years from early Indian pics “Shakespeare-Wallah” and “Bombay Talkie” through to more recent offerings including “A Room With a View,” “Howards End” and “The White Countess.” Also in the mix are early pics helmed by the late Ismail Merchant.

Still being pieced together from the four different continents where Merchant Ivory worked, the collection will encompass original negatives, interpositives and 35mm archive prints, along with photos, screenplays, business records and correspondence.

In addition, Ivory will be awarded the title of George Eastman Honorary Scholar May 5 as part of Eastman House’s 360/365 Film Festival, which will include a presentation of Ivory’s latest film, “The City of Your Final Destination.”

Also set to be honored at the fest is editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the frequent Scorsese collaborator who will pick up a laurel called the Susan B. Anthony “Failure is Impossible” Award.

The acquisition of the Merchant Ivory collection is the second recent high-profile score for Eastman House, which houses the third largest motion picture archive in the country. Last month Technicolor announced it would donate its corporate archive to the museum.

Caroline Frick Page, curator for motion pictures at the Eastman house, said the Merchant Ivory collection reps a significant early moment in international indie film, with materials made particularly difficult to gather without the centralizing effect of a single studio. “Their work as an independent film company at a particular point in time is so important,” she said.

Also included in the Merchant Ivory gift are the correspondence and records from the late 1990s when the Merchant Ivory Foundation and AMPAS restored nine features by Indian helmer Satyajit Ray.

The process of bestowing the newly announced gift began a few years ago, and is expected to continue at least through the next several months as Ivory and Eastman House work to pull together the plethora of materials from all over the world.

“We worked in so many different places and so many different labs,” Ivory said. “I’m discovering stuff all the time.”

The materials of Merchant Ivory — centered on the collaboration of helmer Merchant, producer Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala — will join an archive that already includes the collections of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow and Cecil B. DeMille.

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