More than a source of entertainment, film is the most authentic eyewitness to our recent history. From the first silent shorts to war time news reels and avant-garde animation, much of our nation’s progress is recorded on thin sheets of acetate. Unfortunately, archivists have now seen that these films are deteriorating faster than they can save them. Recognizing the need for action, the U.S. Congress created the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) to work with archivists to help reverse the effects of aging.The NFPF’s main goal is to “save American films not preserved by commercial interests,” says Annette Melville, director of the NFPF. Nine years after its creation, the foundation seems well on its way. “We have helped preserve more than 950 films and assisted archives in 38 states,” adds Melville. She attributes the Foundation’s success to its preservation grant program, awarded to individual nonprofit or public institutions and backed by the Library of Congress, and cooperative projects that enable several film archives to work together on a national scale.

Aside from the grants, however, the foundation “depends entirely on private contributions to support operations and special projects,” according to Melville. The NFPF regularly publishes compendiums of their projects, such as the award-winning 3-DVD set More Treasures from American Film Archives, 1894-1931, with net proceeds supporting the Foundation’s ongoing preservation projects. Through the efforts of the NFPF, we’re reminded of the long and storied history of film—and how viable it is today if we’d only take the time to sit down and watch.

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