is an orphan film?
defined, it's a motion picture abandoned by its owner or caretaker.
More generally, the term refers to all manner of films outside of
the commercial mainstream: public domain materials, home movies, outtakes,
unreleased films, industrial and educational movies, independent documentaries,
ethnographic films, newsreels, censored material, underground works,
experimental pieces, silent-era productions, stock footage, found
footage, medical films, kinescopes, small- and unusual-gauge films,
amateur productions, surveillance footage, test reels, government
films, advertisements, sponsored films, student works, and sundry
other ephemeral pieces of celluloid (or paper or glass or tape or
. . . ).
visit the National
Film Preservation Foundation, an institution dedicated to saving
Film Symposium embraces the broader definition of this new rubric
in film preservation. "Orphans" (as the event is now affectionately
known among its attendees) brings together scholars, artists, archivists,
collectors, curators, conservators and enthusiasts who recognize the
Orphic value of these neglected aspects of our culture.
to speak Orphan
Dictionaries suggest at least three connotations of "orphan," each of
which points to problems in the survival of films.
-- 1. one deprived of protection or advantage (orphans
of the storm).
His outtakes, like his mother's home movies, deteriorated because
no archive would store or preserve them.
-- 2. an item not developed or marketed because its limited use
makes it unprofitable (an orphan drug).
Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep" became an orphan
film for twenty years because no distributor would pick up this challenging
-- 3. a discontinued model (an orphan automobile).
The aviatrix recorded some remarkable aerial footage, but she found
herself with a set of orphan films when no lab would develop her 9.5mm
Gregory Lukow, in
his 1999 address to "Orphans of the Storm I," evaluated the impact
of the "orphan film" metaphor.
of the National Film Preservation Board has located a use of the term
"orphan film" as early as 1992.
of the George Eastman House in his 1999 keynote address, "What is
an Orphan Film?" credited David Francis with introducing the term
during 1993 hearings for the National Film Preservation Plan.
"The News Hour" broadcast the report "Saving Orphan Films" on January 12, 2001, profiling the launch
of the DVD set Treasures from American Film Archives.