Out of the Dustbin, Onto the Web
TAMI launches a new film-preservation initiative
It isn't every night that a crowd gathers to sip wine and watch a one-minute, black-and-white, silent movie about nothing, but last Wednesday was no normal night. At the 501 Studios, on the city's Eastside, some 50 people listened while Caroline Frick – film archivist, UT assistant professor, and founder of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image – introduced "Austin, 1911, Capitol Grounds," in which a few horses and buggies trot noiselessly along Congress Street. The brief slice-of-life documentary was shot by the Tilley brothers, one of the earliest filmmaking teams in Texas, whose work has been all but lost to the dustbin of history. For preservationists and history buffs, the Tilley brothers' films are cinematic white whales, and so the recent discovery of "Austin, 1911, Capitol Grounds" was cause for celebration. And last Wednesday was its coming-out party.
Well, not entirely. The film screening was actually a surprise, thrown in at the last minute by Frick as icing. The cake was a party celebrating the launch of Texas Film Round-Up, a public-service education and preservation initiative organized by TAMI that will travel the state offering free on-site digitization of home movies, industrial films, commercials, etc., and information on film and video preservation. In addition to preserving the physical integrity of these recovered films, the Texas Film Round-Up's digitization process will allow all contributed images to be made available online, free of charge, thereby rescuing a significant part of the state's cultural history from eternal darkness.
In return for providing partygoers with an exhibit about the science of film digitization and as much wine and cheese as they could handle, Frick and her colleagues entreated guests to keep an eye out for lost Texas films (by checking under beds and in underwear drawers, we're guessing), even going so far as to pass out a wanted poster that listed their 10 most sought-after prizes. The list includes 1914's "The Life of General Villa," starring Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa as himself, and 1929's "Personality Plus," an amateur production by high school students in San Antonio that was supervised by Birth of a Nation director D.W. Griffith.
Should you stumble on any of these movies, TAMI advises you to approach them with caution after notifying the proper authorities and not to store them in hot, humid areas or handle them "roughly or frequently."
The online video library of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image can be found at www.texasarchive.org/library.