6th Orphan Film Symposium

Last week, Raj, Lucy and I were in New York for the 6th Orphan Film Symposium organised by NYU Cinema Studies and its Moving Image Archiving and Preservation programme.

One of our volunteers, Adam Habib who taught at Ngee Ann told me about this great symposium 2 years back. He was from the University of South Carolina where the symposium was birthed. This biennale event attracts orphanistas, consisting of scholars, artists, archivists, collectors, curators, conservators and enthusiasts. The organisors even called the collection of such films - the orphanage. So when does a film become an orphan (from 5th Symposium):

1. one deprived of protection or advantage (orphans of the storm).Outtakes, like his mother's home movies, deteriorated because no archive would store or preserve them.orphan

2. an item not developed or marketed because its limited use makes it unprofitable (an orphan drug).Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" became an orphan film for twenty years because no distributor would pick up this challenging work.orphan

3. a discontinued model (an orphan automobile). The aviatrix recorded some remarkable aerial footage, but she found herself with a set of orphan films when no lab would develop her 9.5mm footage.

Picture courtesy of 6th Orphan Film Symposium

It's a great honour to open the symposium with our presentations after the keynote address by Paolo Cherchi Usai.

Karen, our archivist, and I developed a paper on the independence of Rajendra Gour's films. Like many early filmmakers, Gour was not native to Singapore. He came here from India after graduating from the Pune Film Institute. However, he was brought in to train the television industry and never a studios director. He stinged to make his films on 16mm in the 60s and 70s with his own money. Despite gaining international recognition, there wasn't much government support for his works. In 1981, he made a national appeal on Straits Times for funding to preserve his films. That did not happen until 2005 when the Asian Film Archive and the National Archives of Singapore, in a private-public partnership, come together to preserve Singapore and Asian cinema. Gour attended the event to present the audio-restored version of Labour of Love, made possible courtesy of the Overseas Travel Grant by the Singapore Film Commission.

Two of our former interns, Lucy and Pauline, developed a paper on the Film Act and its implication on the Asian Film Archive preserving banned films using the case study of Martyn See's political works which are critical of the state.

Other presentors include the Ross Lipman (the inspiring archivist who almost single-handedly established a tradition of preserving avant-garde and independent American film, including the complicated and demanding preservation of Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep), Rick Prelinger, Professor Charles Musser (who directs the film studies programme at Yale), Professor Howard Besser (who directs NYU's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation programme), Dan Drasin (filmmaker who made Sunday in 1961 at the age of 18) and many more. I also chanced upon the illuminious film historian Harvard Professor Scott Macdonald, author of The Garden In the Machine that I was reading a while back.

There were alot of films restored for the symposium and presented (sometimes even newly scored by the NYU film students). Two films stuck to mind: Sam Fullerís Falkenau liberation footage (1945) about the Nazi concentration camps and Representations of Disability in Scientific and Educational Films presented by Laura Kissel.

The symposium ended with the state dinner on the 10th floor of the Kimmel building with a grand view of the New York City. From left, here's me with Rick Prelinger (who spent his life building the Prelinger Library and fighting against copyrights laws that are against public benefit - see Kahle/Prelinger vs. Ashcroft), Rajendra Gour (who was in U.S for the first time to attend a screening of his works which received two awards there in the 60-70s) and Dan Streible (the illuminous organisor of the symposium who was such a wonderful host and put together the most marvelous programme).

While in New York, I also met up with Singapore filmmakers - Yen Yen and Colin, as well as Amrin, who volunteered with AFA as our legal consultant in our first two years before he left for NY.

- Bee Thiam


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