Thursday, July 27, 2000

Priceless film gets new home

Wright-Patterson to turn over movies

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        FAIRBORN, Ohio — The priceless original negatives and prints of such classic films as Casablanca and The Great Train Robbery, stored for decades at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, will get a new home in Virginia.

        The Air Force's film vaults in Ohio are deteriorating, David Francis, chief of the Library of Congress' Washington D.C.-based Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, said Wednesday.

        He said films stored in various locations will be centralized in late 2003 in Culpeper, Va.

        The Air Force built vaults after World War II to store reconnaissance film.

        In 1969, they were turned over to the Library of Congress, which had been looking for a place to store nitrate film.

        Nitrate film, which can deteriorate if it is not kept in the right temperature and humidity, was used in commercial cinema until 1951, when it was replaced with cellulose acetate.

        Stored in the Wright-Patterson vaults are the original negatives of such classics as Birth of a Nation, The Maltese Falcon and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

        “It's a pretty impressive collection,” said Mr. Francis. “We must ensure we do the best we can to maintain this vital heritage.”

        In Virginia, the Library of Congress is creating a National Audio Visual Conservation Center in an underground building previously owned by the Federal Reserve. It will be renovated and a new lab built next to it.

        Mr. Francis said the center will enable the library to consolidate its film storage and preservation operations.

        Besides Wright-Patterson, film is stored at sites in Boyers, Pa., and Suitland and Landover, Md.

        “We're spread out all over the place,” said Mr. Francis. “The opportunity to purchase a site where we can consolidate all of our activities really was too good of an opportunity to miss.”

        The building purchase and redesign is supported by a $10 million grant from the Packard Humanities Institute of Los Altos, Calif.

        “We have a tremendous lack of proper storage space,” said Ken Weissman, head of the Motion Picture Conservation Center at Wright-Patterson. “This new facility will solve that and give us growth for the next 25 years or so.”

        Mr. Weissman said plaster on the outside of the building is crumbling and that the roof leaks.

        “We've been worried about those vaults for several years now because they are starting to crumble,” Mr. Francis said.

        There are about 110,000 cans of film containing between 25,000 and 30,000 movie titles in the 99 vaults at the base.

        Mr. Weissman said the Culpeper center will have 120 vaults and offer better temperature and humidity conditions as well as improved fire protection.

        “If we were to have a fire in the vaults, chances are every one of those cans would go up in smoke,” he said.

        Twenty-one workers will have to decide whether to move to Culpeper along with their jobs.


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