THESE AMAZING SHADOWS (2011, 55 minutes for PBS) is one of those immortal and absolutely necessary little documentaries that doesn't exactly cover our history or views - but it covers a most vital way in which we express those things.
This documentary, while revealing very little, explains America's National Film Registry, which I believe is in the Library of Congress. Each year, only 25 motion pictures are chose to the Registry, picked by the National Film Preservation Board but the documentary tells us may be nominated by almost anyone.
We are shown snippets of films in the registry, from what you might expect - The Wizard of Oz, It's A Wonderful Life, The Godfather - to totally unknown indie films and old documentaries. One that impressed me was a 1916 silent film by the great but forgotten Lois Weber, one of many important female writer/directors before women got booted out of the filmmaking industry. Weber's contribution in the Registry is WHERE ARE MY CHILDREN?, included in the set Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934, an emotional account of abortion and all the concomitant issues.
This work also addresses the restoration of film by utilizing THE GODFATHER as a prime example. The way it was shot was done so that no one could change its light or color values. It is a dark, foreboding film that was guaranteed to remain so. However, when the negative was examined "it was in tatters" and that had to be corrected post-haste. Though too little of that sort of information is provided here, it is still a good shorthand example of the need to preserve/restore film. As one important industry worker said, it is most essential that in such work, a film be restored to the way it was originally and nothing more.
Some might argue that narrow view. Whatever one thinks, documentaries like these are vital, vital, vital. As one filmmaker states, a documentary is absolutely unique because there is one and only one time it can be made. It freezes time for all time - and I wonder, if anyone is left at all and if they can view films, what they might make of this film that describes our present efforts to save, preserve and present films as long as humanly possible.
Of course, if the National Film Registry has done its job, people will have all these treasures for as long as there are people to treasure them. As a fan, but also as a historian, connoisseur, collector and critic, my feeling about film has always been anchored by one personal standard: I think a film ought to show us something we would otherwise never see or have any hope of seeing.
Thanks to this documentary, the viewer gets to learn how the NFR is saving, preserving and appreciating film for us and for our descendants. The small humble films, the few home-movie-type things and short documentaries in the NFR will tell the stories to future generations who know next to nothing about their subjects. Here you will get to know the opinions of everyone from Zooey Deschanel to Rob Reiner, and some surprise interviewees such as Stephen Peck, Gregory Peck's son.
Now HERE is some great stuff I could otherwise never have seen.
In spite of the immense library of such work PBS has given us over the decades, this documentary in particular belongs in all schools and colleges, in every walk of life where people are educated.