Written by STF blogger Deena Ecker
These Amazing Shadows is a movie for, about and by people who love movies. The National Film Registry was created by Congress in 1989 for the purpose of protecting and preserving important American films, those considered culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. Directors Paul Marino and Kurt Norton take us through a journey with these films that weave the American story. The films preseved by the Registry are not just the big movies that appear on most lists. While Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane and The Godfather are on the list, these movies and others like them do not show us a complete picture of America. These Amazing Shadows takes us through the list in a way that demonstrates what culturally, historically and aesthetically significant means to the members of the National Film Preservation Board. Is The Rocky Horror Picture Show worthy of an Oscar? No. Is it a significant part of American culture? Yes. Will ducking and covering protect you from an atomic bomb? No. Are the films telling us it will an important piece of history? Yes. Censored films, films by women in the 1910’s, propaganda, commercials, newsreels: all these aspects of film are represented on the list and addressed in this captivating documentary. Following the screening, STF Artistic Director Thom Powers spoke with Director/Producers Kurt Norton and Paul Marino and National Film Preservation Board member Dan Streible. Click “Read more” below.
[Photo: from left, Kurt Norton and Paul Marino, courtesy of Simon Luethi]
STF: How did you get into the making of These Amazing Shadows?
Paul Marino: In December of 2007 I read about the National Film Registry in CineFiles. The statistic we mentioned in the film that 50% of films before 1950 and 80-90% of all silent films are gone struck me. I then called Kurt and that was the beginning.
Audience: The clips in the movie are pristine. How did you get them to look so good?
Kurt Norton: Our editor Alex Calleros sourced the materials mostly from DVDs. We were able to use the clips under the Fair Use laws. If it weren’t for the Fair Use the film would have been prohibitively expensive.
Audience: The films that are chosen each year are very eclectic. Is there ever any concern by the Board that there would be too many films from one director?
Marino: Yes and also too many of one actor. Librarian of Congress James Billington is very responsive to expanding the breadth of films to have the National Film Registry represent all of American cinema.
Norton: Frank Capra is the director with the most films on the list. That includes the Why We Fight series he made for the military in World War II. John Ford has nine on the list. Women directors are underrepresented on the list.
Dan Streible: There should be more women directors represented but there are already many women included.
Audience: How many films are on the Registry? How did you decide which ones to use?
Marino: There are 550 films on the Registry. It was our choice which ones we used. We wanted to have certain sections and make certain points and we used films that helped us with that.
Norton: There were certain important films we wanted to use. When we did the interviews we found people were talking about the same films again and again. We thought that Dr. Strangelove would be featured but people didn’t really talk about it too much.
Audience: Are there any films not on the list you would like to see put on?
Marino: Two for the Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney directed by Stanley Donen. It’s a great film about marriage.
Norton: The Times of Harvey Milk and The Guns of Navarone.
Audience: Dr. Strangelove is not an American film. Is the National Film Registry exclusively American? Did you compare it with the registries of other countries like France and Australia?
Marino: We wanted to focus on the National Film Registry and the danger the films were in, the ephemeral of film and the fragility of film.
Norton: Members of the board tell us that the rules state that the films have to be American but we looked at the rules and there is nothing that states that.
Streible: Legislation specifies American but there are debates about it. The nature of the funding makes us lean toward American films since the American people are paying for it. Just going back to The Times of Harvey Milk, every year the board recommends it but the Librarian has the final say and he always keeps it off.
You can follow These Amazing Shadows on Twitter at AmazingShadows.
[Q&A has been condensed and edited]