Some films released in the early 20th century have never been seen again because they were damaged by water, lost in a fire or simply deteriorated over the course of time.
But from Friday to Sunday, the 2019 UCLA Festival of Preservation will screen films that are rarely seen anymore, said festival programmer Paul Malcolm. The event, held at the Billy Wilder Theater in the Hammer Museum, will feature films restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive over the last two years, Malcolm said. The restoration process for these films, which includes works from different periods of film history, was made possible with the help of grants and donated funds, he said.
“It’s exciting because a lot of the films that they’ve been restoring we’re seeing for the first time too,” Malcolm said. “Some of these films are coming out on the big screen for the first time in decades.”
One of the films being featured hasn’t been seen since its initial release in 1929, Malcolm said. Directed by Roland West, the Academy Award nominee for Best Picture “Alibi” was the first “talkie” of its kind: a motion picture with the sound synchronized to the images projected on screen. The original print had gone missing for several years, but a later copy from 1957 was found at the British Film Institute. Unfortunately, it had a long emulsion scratch scored across the reel from its first frame to its last, which Scott MacQueen, the head of preservation at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, said made the technical process of restoring the 35mm print exceptionally difficult.
“There was dirt and splotches and fingerprints and rippling, an overall very ugly image,” MacQueen said. “We did a complete 4K digital restoration and it now looks magnificent compared to what we started with.”
Films are chosen for restoration at the Archive based on two factors: what works are at risk of deterioration, and what funding is available for preservation, Malcolm said. Non-profit foundations will provide funds for restoring films of their choice – for instance “Alibi” was restored with funds provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. But Malcolm said other foundations specialize in certain types of films. The Film Noir Foundation financed the revival of “The Man Who Cheated Himself” and “Trapped” – both post-war Noir films featuring classic Hollywood actors like Lloyd Bridges and Lee J. Cobb.
Although Malcolm said the archive’s biggest draw has always been classic Hollywood films, there will be a number of shorts and documentaries on exhibit this weekend as well. The National Film Preservation Foundation funded the restoration of “The Savages,” a 1967 short documentary by UCLA alumnus Alan Gorg about a black father in the then-poverty stricken neighborhood of West Venice. Jillian Borders, the senior film preservationist at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, said the original film suffered water damage so she restored this film from an unedited 35mm negative.
“We basically had to remake all of the original edits that the filmmaker did,” Borders said. “We had to make sure that we had all the exact footage that he used, frame by frame, make sure that was replicated in our new restoration.”
The festival is being held over a single long weekend this year, eschewing the previous format of screening over the course of several weekends in one month, Malcolm said. Inspired by historic weekend-long film festivals such as TCM Festival and the George Eastman Museum’s The Nitrate Picture Show, Malcolm said he wanted to encapsulate the feeling of a dizzying smorgasbord of cinema in a short timespan while maintaining the focus on saving films.
“That’s the exciting part of it,” Malcolm said. “To flow through a big history of film in one weekend is pretty amazing.”