Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940, Jill Brett (202) 707-2905

June 24, 1993

New Report Quantifies Dire State of American Film Preservation

Motion pictures of all types are deteriorating faster than archives can preserve them, according to a comprehensive study released today (June 25) by the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington. Findings include the following:

  • Fewer than 20% of the features of the 1920s survive in complete form; for features of the 1910s, the survival rate falls to about 10%.
  • A large number of "lost" American films of the 1910's and 1920's can be found only as single prints in foreign archives.
  • "Safety film," the cellulose acetate medium to which volatile nitrate films have been transferred, has been found to have its own problems of "vinegar syndrome", an irreversible film base decay.
  • Fueling the crisis is the fading of color films from the last 40 years.
  • Funding for the largest federal film preservation programs has fallen to half its 1980 level, when adjusted for inflation.

The report, "Film Preservation 1993: A Study of the Current State of American Film Preservation," was submitted to Congress by the Librarian of Congress, as directed by the National Film Preservation Act of 1992. Copies will be available from the Government Printing Office in the near future.

"The moving picture is not so much the art form as the language of the twentieth century," Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has said. "Future generations will wonder why so little of such a marvelously accessible and appealing record was ever preserved or seriously studied by the strangely transparent and otherwise exuberant society that produced it all."

The four-volume report is the first comprehensive look at American film preservation. Information was gathered through hundreds of interviews and library research, as well as public testimony and written statements from over 100 organizations and individuals. Volume 1 contains the report, while volumes 2 and 3 contain transcripts of public hearings held by the National Film Preservation Board. Written statements are reproduced in volume 4.

The report which lays the framework for a national film preservation program, is the first of two steps to be undertaken by the Librarian of Congress and his advisory panel, the National Film Preservation Board. The second step is the development of a national film preservation plan. Written public comment to assist in this effort may be submitted by September 30, 1993 to Mr. Steven Leggett, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540.


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Directors Guild of America
The Writers Guild of America
National Society of Film Critics
The Society for Cinema Studies
The American Film Institute
The Department of Theater, Film, and Television of the College of Fine Arts, UCLA
Department of Film and Television of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University
The University Film and Video Association
The Motion Picture Association of America
The National Association of Broadcasters
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers
The Screen Actors Guild of America
The National Association of Theater Owners
The American Society of Cinematographers and the International Photographers Guild
The United States members of the International Federation of Film Archives

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PR 93-086
ISSN 0731-3527

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