Industrial and Institutional Films

A Collaborative Project Funded by
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Some segments of American motion picture production are still so poorly documented that there are no reference publications to guide archivists deciding which titles to save first. One of the most problematic areas is the industrial and institutional film. Over 250,000 were sponsored over the past century by corporations, trade associations, advocacy groups, and charitable organizations to explain programs and to promote products. Today these works are significant historical documents that reveal as much about the culture that produced the films as about the subjects themselves.

Thanks to a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Film Preservation Foundation is beginning work with industrial film expert Rick Prelinger of the Internet Archive and Prelinger Archives on a new guide to these relatively unknown motion pictures. The Industrial and Institutional Films: A Field Guide will describe significant examples and report whether copies exist at the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution, the two major public collections of these moving-image materials. Serving on the project team are representatives from the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Georgia, the University of South Carolina, the University of Notre Dame, and the Council on Library and Information Resources.

The new reference work will be produced over a fourteen-month period through a collaborative process integrating comment from scholars and preservationists. Starting with a core list, Rick Prelinger will invite subject experts to review the draft and add key titles in their areas of specialty. In late 2005 the working draft will be made available on the Internet for wider comment. The work-in-progress will be then be presented at the Orphan Film Symposium , to be held at the University of South Carolina from March 22 to 25, 2006, in Columbia, South Carolina, for further discussion.

The final annotated filmography will distill information on 400 to 500 of the most significant American industrial and institutional films and include an index and bibliographic citations. The NFPF plans to publish The Industrial and Institutional Films: A Field Guide in book form in August 2006 and also post the work on the NFPF Web site. Both a preservation selection tool for archivists and a finding aid for researchers, this reference tool will create a national road map for saving and encouraging the use of historical documents whose value is now becoming recognized.