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Forgotten Films Find a Home

Tim League talks about the newly formed American Genre Film Archive

By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 25, 2009

The Shaw Brothers' <i>Return to the 36th Chamber</i> is one of the AGFA's newest acquisitions.
The Shaw Brothers' Return to the 36th Chamber is one of the AGFA's newest acquisitions.

It is estimated that more than 75% of films made during the silent era have been lost. A smaller but no less devastating percentage of sound films from the 1930s on have been damaged, misfiled, or just plain forgotten about, despite the best efforts of professionally run film archives such as the George Eastman House. When it comes to saving, salvaging, and storing genre film collections, the situation is even more dire, with collectors regularly discovering, often too late, caches of chop-socky masterpieces and former Deuce seat-fillers in abandoned warehouses, dead-end drive-ins, and mysterious estate sales.

To redress that neglect, Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League and a group of other genre film enthusiasts and collectors have now announced the formation of the American Genre Film Archive, a nonprofit dedicated to tracking down, preserving, and screening all manner of genre films, from its recently acquired trove of 250 Shaw Brothers films uncovered in the basement of a former Chinese theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia, (among them Human Lanterns, Dirty Ho, and Wu-Tang fave Return to the 36th Chamber) to virtually all of the films screened at the Alamo Drafthouse's Weird Wednesdays and Terror Tuesdays.

"The AGFA is separate from the Alamo operations," says League. "It's specifically about the preservation of the type of film that we've been programming for over a decade and also the type of film that most traditional film archives aren't doing anything about."

Prior to the acquisition of what is ostensibly the largest Shaw Brothers collection in the United States, the League/Alamo archives had been sitting on roughly 1,200 35mm features and some 2,000 35mm trailers – all of which have been stored thus far at the Alamo Village and the Alamo South Lamar.

"One of the issues that we've had with some but not all film archives is that they do preserve the films but it's not part of their mission to get those films seen. Our main goals are a) to make sure the films are preserved, and b) to make sure the films are actually seen by audiences in cinemas."

To that end, the AGFA is planning a touring program of Shaw Brothers films and related ephemera; it also intends to make the films available for rental to repertory venues near and far. With another massive (but as yet unannounced) film acquistion scheduled to happen in the first quarter of the new year, the AGFA is making waves fast.

League says: "Probably the only collection that's bigger than ours right now is Mike Vraney from Something Weird Video, but his is less of a traditional archive, and he doesn't loan out his films. So there's nothing even close to the size of what we have. In fact, the only other archive that's even close to ours is our good buddy Anthony Timpson in New Zealand. With the formation of the 501(c)(3) and the hiring of a director of the archive, we're trying to take it into a whole new serious and professional level. As far as I know, we're now the largest genre film archive in the world."

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