Forgotten Films Find a Home

Tim League talks about the newly formed American Genre Film Archive

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."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More American Genre Film Archive
How the American Genre Film Archive Is Saving Movies One Reel at a Time
How the American Genre Film Archive Is Saving Movies One Reel at a Time
Austin nonprofit preserves cinema’s underseen and underappreciated

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 16, 2016

Exposing <i>The Zodiac Killer</i>
Exposing The Zodiac Killer
The first film to be restored by the American Genre Film Archive

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 16, 2016

<i>Scary Movie</i> Comes Back From the Grave
Scary Movie Comes Back From the Grave
Austin's 1991 indie horror rises again

Matthew Monagle, Oct. 21, 2022

More Screens
Austin Artist Brings Gamera to Vibrant Life in a New Box Set
Austin Artist Brings Gamera to Vibrant Life in a New Box Set
Matt Frank builds the perfect monster

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 28, 2020

SXSW Film Reviews: 'Lunarcy!'
Daily Reviews and Interviews

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 15, 2013

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


American Genre Film Archive, AGFA, Tim League, Alamo Drafthouse, Shaw Brothers, Weird Wednesdays, Terror Tuesdays, Mike Vraney, Something Weird Video, Anthony Timpson

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle