While others in Hollywood make movies, Film Foundation execs Margaret Bodde and Jennifer Ahn are dedicated to saving them. With more than half the films released before 1950 lost forever, and countless others disintegrating or fading with time, their preservation efforts can amount to triage in a losing war. And yet, as the Film Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary, the org can take credit for saving more than 500 films — a diverse sample of which helped bring attention to the Film Foundation this year, as the “20 Films/20 Years” program unspooled at six U.S. film festivals.
“If you look at the films we restore year in, year out, you’re talking about documentaries, newsreels, avant garde and every genre of feature film,” Bodde says. “Even within the archival community, I’ve encountered those who say, ‘I don’t know if that was worth preserving.’ We’re not here to restore our favorite films. Not every film is a masterpiece, but there’s an enormous number of films that have immeasurable historic and scholarship value.”
In a nutshell
Job titles: Bodde is exec director; Ahn managing director of the Film Foundation.
Role model: Both women cite Martin Scorsese.
Career mantra: “You can always get something done.” (Bodde)
Leisure pursuits: Spending time with family.
Philanthropic passion: Ahn supports Artists for a New South Africa, while Bodde champions Habitat for Humanity.
While founder Martin Scorsese remains the public face of the nonprofit, Bodde and Ahn oversee day-to-day operations from their offices on opposite coasts. Gotham-based Bodde (who also produces some of Scorsese’s docs, including his upcoming George Harrison project) spent the past two decades convincing studios, donors and the public of the need to rescue endangered films, while her Los Angeles counterpart Ahn interfaces with the org’s many partners, including American Express, Gucci, IBM and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. “As important as it is to preserve and restore these films, if there’s no one there to watch them, it weakens the issue,” Ahn explains. “For us, it’s really about preservation, access and education.”
In the past year, the Film Foundation has dramatically increased its profile via high-visibility screenings (including the gala premiere of “Il gattopardo” at the Cannes Film Festival in May, with an equally glitzy rollout planned for a revived “La Dolce Vita” at next month’s Rome Film Festival) and added momentum for its “The Story of Movies” classroom program, which uses films such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as teaching tools (reaching more than 8.5 million students to date).