Author Archives: dimitri

Internet (Film) Archive – A Screening: Monday June 5 at 7 pm

Join us for an evening of fun, nostalgia and learning with a screening of the rarest, corniest and weirdest films from the Internet Archive’s collection of Educational Media. This curated screening of digitized and 16mm films will also include favorites as voted by IA users and staff.


Browse the collection at

Nominate your favorite films at

(Educational) Film of the Week: A Shooting Gallery Called America (NBC, 1975)

Because of their role as pedagogical tools directed at students and the general public, educational films have often been the subject of controversy, especially when they tackle fraught social issues from a particular point of view. While it might seem like the debate on gun control, mass shootings and police violence has only recently mushroomed to extraordinary proportions — at least as far as its coverage in the print, broadcast and electronic press is concerned — the issue has a much longer history, including in documentaries and non-theatrical films.

One such film that originated as a TV documentary special on NBC, but whose inclusion in the Internet Archive’s educational films collection indicates its distribution in the K-12 and college film circuit, bears the rather poignant title A Shooting Gallery called America (1975).

The early 1970s were a period fraught with debate about gun control, especially after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Interestingly enough, a pamphlet issued the previous year by the National Coalition to Ban Handguns had the exact same title, providing evidence of a coordinated campaign for gun control that deployed statistics, testimonies and visual materials calculated to have an emotional impact.

The program caused as polarized a response in 1975 as one would expect a similar broadcast to cause today. NBC received thousands of letters from supporters of both sides of the debate (starting before the program had even been broadcast!) with arguments that have remained almost constant to the present day.

Said one: “We can give you our opinion of your Sunday, March 2nd special ‘Shooting Gallery Called America.’ It stank.

“We found it nothing more than a rehash of the same tired old theme: blame the instrument, not the criminal.”

Another read: “I would like to commend NBC for its coverage of the gun problems in this country. The special, A Shooting Gallery Called America, was very informative. I would like to see it again.”

Producer Lucy Jarvis who would go on to direct many similar documentaries on social causes, later recalled the storm of controversy unleashed by this special:

“People knew we were doing it, and we began to get lots of mail,” she said. ” Probably they were alerted by a national organization. Because there was such an emotional reaction, I didn’t want the program to go until I was doubly sure that everything was checked out.”

As a result the airing date was pushed back on two occasions.

The statistics presented  by the journalists — number of handguns and rifles, number of victims in shooting crimes and accidents — have only gotten worse with the passage of four decades. But the visual vocabulary established by documentaries like this one, from footage of shooting ranges to interviews at gun shows on the one hand and with families of victims of gun violence on the other, will be more than familiar to viewers of cable and network news in 2016.

As a recent article revisiting the program and its reception forty years ago put it in a rather rhetorical fashion: “Why has nothing changed in 40 years?”



(Educational) Film of the Week: Biography (TV Series, 1961-3)

Educational films and TV programs very often center around great events, artworks, books or historical figures, subscribing to a model of historiography that Matthew Arnold summarized as “the best that has been thought and known in the world.” It is thus not surprising that the Internet Archive’s collection of educational films includes many examples of biographical portraits of great men (and they are almost always dead white men). Prominent among these shows was the long-running “Biography” series, hosted by the late Mike Wallace, that ultimately spawned the creation of an entire network of the same name (recently revived as “FYI.”)

Multiple episodes of the original run of the TV series from 1961 to 1963 (comprising a total of 65 half-hour shows) have been digitized from 16mm prints that were circulated among schools and universities after the original airing of the syndicated show.

In contrast with later iterations of this series, the original run focused on deceased, historical figures without the focus on the entertainment industry and celebrity that was prominent later on.

It goes without saying that in profiling figures like Spanish dictator Francisco Franco or Soviet leader Josef Stalin the program does not stand up to any scholarly standard of objectivity; it is very much a reflection of the cold war sensibilities that produced it. The choice of subjects, too, reflects a bias toward statesmen (including even politicians like Fiorello Laguardia who no longer have the name recognition they once did) and figures of American history and culture like Mark Twain and Clarence Darrow. However, the episodes do include a variety of rare archival footage that functions as a primary historical document, making them still valuable from a pedagogical and scholarly point of view. Another aspect of the series that remains useful today is the larger argument it presents about the relationship between an individual life and the course of national and global history.

Films in the Internet Archive’s educational film collection thus provide a window not only into history but also the way in which it was recorded, whether in written or audiovisual forms, which in turn had a great influence on the way history was taught and learned throughout the twentieth century.

(Educational) Film of the Week: Reading, Writing and Reefer (1979)

After-school specials are arguably the best-known (and perennially popular) category of educational film. This has to do more with the unintended irony and outdated rhetoric, rather than their originally intended purpose as informational and instructional media.

A prime example of one of the leading sub-genres, anti-drug campaign films, is surely Reading, Writing, and Reefer released in 1979 as an episode in the (ironically titled) series “NBC Special Treat.”

The film follows in the precedent long established by such war-on-drugs classics as Marijuana (1936), Reefer Madness (1937), The Terrible Truth (1951) and The Marijuana Gateway (1968). While it is important to understand that these films were not meant for the same audience and are frequently reflections of the political and sociocultural debates of the time, such films help us understanding the history of medical, civic and pedagogical understanding of psychotropic substances, including – in the most prominent case – of canabis.

Reading, Writing, and Reefer was co-sponsored by Robert DuPont who would later become the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the White House’s anti-drug czar. As one contemporary review put it, the TV special aimed to “portrayed a nation of schoolchildren turned into zombies by pot”; it thus anticipated an apex in the War on Drugs promotional campaign of the 1970s, that started with Richard Nixon’s 1971 press conference on the issue and ended (for the most part) with Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” rallies.

The film is particularly pointed in its language and imagery, with scenes of “15-year-old heroin addicts and 12-year-old middle school students from affluent suburbs who skipped class and smoked upward of five joints per day.” In addition to it being broadcast on a national network, it had a very wide circulation within schools and a quick search reveals several 16mm prints in circulation today some three and half decades after its premiere. Its use of exaggerated and untested statistics (“five joints is equal to smoking 112 cigarettes”) and the sarcastic stance it takes toward an “idle” youth culture deviate from the more scientific tone of similar films that have not had the cult afterlife of Reading, Writing, and Reefer.

Major educational film catalogs consistently included entire categories dedicated to substance-abuse information films and separate publications like “99+ films on drugs” (1970) and “Selected Drug Abuse Education Films” were issued. In future editions of our blog we will be highlighting films produced throughout this period and the different ways in which they tackled this sensitive but culturally important issue.

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, The Internet Archive



Digitization at Scale or What does it Mean to Scan for Access?

As previously reported on this blog, the Internet Archive is engaged in a large-scale digitization project of over ten thousand reels of educational, industrial and amateur films as well as the development of tools that facilitate pedagogical and research use of this collection. In doing this we have striven to follow guidelines and specifications accepted within the archival community and consulted with partners on best practices and workflows. We have also been actively involved in discussions and webinars within the Association of Moving Image Archivists to develop a tiered approach that best serves the needs of each project.

Such a differentiated approach is necessitated by the fact that digitization of physical assets held by archives, libraries and museums has thus far been construed as the generation of preservation-quality digital surrogates that can serve a number of potential needs: restoration, exhibition and online distribution among them. Setting the bar this high has understandably hindered progress and made archivists reticent to invest in the time, personnel and equipment needed to plan such a complex project. The result has been  enormous backlogs, widespread neglect — especially in genres and modes of filmmaking like non-theatrical films where there is no immediate incentive for distribution and commercial exploitation –and overwhelmed grant makers (NFPF, CLIR) trying desperately to prioritize from a sea of equally worthy projects.

Granted, this situation cannot be solely attributed to the insistence for high standards and the costs of film preservation; nor is this a call for the bar to be lowered on these fronts. Instead, the archival community should replicate what has been a very successful and continuously updated set of guidelines for preservation into the realm of digitization which currently lacks national, disciplinary and scholarly guidance. We desperately need a set of shared practices that can serve a wide variety of institutions while keeping in mind the primary reason why we are all striving to preserve our shared audiovisual heritage in the first place: to put it (back) in the hands of the public, on as global and open-access base as possible.

The Internet Archive as a whole is driven by this philosophy and thus it is no surprise that in our film digitization activities too, emphasis has been placed on scale and access.

IA Poster-page-001

Instead of following the example of other major archives that are frequently constrained (as a partner complained to us) into scanning a maximum of 100 reels of home movies a year out of a collection that numbers in the tens of thousands, we have chosen to take a nuanced approach into what NARA calls “distribution/reproduction” masters.

We ask ourselves what it would  be like to structure a digitization workflow on the following assumptions:

  1. that we are providing digital surrogates of films that have long been unavailable, buried in archives or destroyed through de-accessioning and chronic neglect;
  2. our films are often many generations removed from camera originals and thus not fit to be used as preservation masters;
  3. copies of most of our films exist in many other archives and libraries, nearly none of whom has a plan or the resources to digitize them in the near future;
  4. we aim to build an extensive collection (in breadth and depth) in a single genre –educational films– that can act as a proof of concept and example for future work of a similar nature (digitization- and metadata-wise)
  5. we do not want to lock films down because of lack of clarity in rights issues; we aim for the widest availability possible.

Currently at the Internet Archive, we are digitizing, uploading, curating and making publicly available (in most cases for the first time in many decades) upwards of 40 hours of content every week. That corresponds to almost 100 reels of 16mm film and 1,5 terabytes of audiovisual files. This is approaching the amount of original programming that the NET (National Educational Television) was providing weekly to its viewers during its heyday. We are doing this with a limited staff, enthusiastic volunteers, one 16mm film scanner and optimum coordination from the physical to the digital to the online curation realms.

While numbers don’t tell the whole story, it’s certainly hard to argue that an access-based model of digitization should not be part of the (inter)national conversation about the preservation of our audiovisual heritage.

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, Internet Archive


(Educational) Film of the Week: Now is the Time (1967)

The Internet Archive’s educational film collection is particularly rich in films from the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, events and movements of national and international important like the Vietnam War (Interviews with My Lai veterans (1970)) and the Civil Rights movement (Civil rights movement: the North (1966)) are well represented.

One of the more interesting and hard-to-find ones is surely Now is the Time (1967) featuring Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (a couple in real life).

Davis and Dee participated in a variety of similarly themed film, including some in our collection like Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (1964).

Produced for NBC’s local affiliate in Philadelphia and originally broadcast on December 13, 1967 (a few weeks before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination), the tone of Now is the Time is that of reporting on history as it happens. Although it does not pretend to impartiality – the two hosts act as voices-of-conscience and often speak  in the first person – it cover the decade’s events succinctly and accurately: a story of anger but also of a people of “remarkable strength.” Archival footage, interviews, songs and music compliments the evocative staged vignettes between Davis and Dee in the studio.

The film won a number of awards and was featured in a number of prominent publications about educational film, including Richard A. Maynard’s The celluloid curriculum: how to use movies in the classroom (1971, see page 29) and was even the subject of a recent Master’s thesis (JoyEllen Freeman, Portrayal of Power: Black Nationalism in the Documentary Now Is the Time, University of Georgia, 2011)

This a wonderful example of how programs on current affairs that by the 1960s had transitioned from the newsreel to the TV set, where often repurposed in the opposite direction; transferred on 16mm these “films” often had a second life in the educational and non-thetrical market. Indeed, it is striking to find a film as opinionated and potentially controversial as The Time is Now  in the curriculum of public schools (in this case in the state of Pennsylvania). This is just another indication of how varied, transmedial and socioculturally rich the medium of the educational film was during its heyday.

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, The Internet Archive

Film of the Week: Film Firsts (1959-60)

The Internet Archive is actively engaged in digitizing a wide variety of educational films on science, education, the arts, psychology, medicine and history. In this new blog series, we will highlight films that are newly digitized and available each week on the collection page, to provide visitors with a better idea of the breadth and depth of this quirky, informative and much-in-need-of-preservation medium: the non-theatrical film.

First up is Film Firsts a documentary in two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) covering the early history and development of the medium of motion pictures.

Our collection is rich in films about the film medium itself, whether aspects of its production (e.g. Cinematographer) or its history (e.g. Hollywood: The Golden Years and Hollywood the Dream Factory). Film Firsts, however, focuses on the early part of cinema’s developed the period usually described as early and silent cinema.

Produced for television audiences (ABC) but also screened for school groups and other non-theatrical audiences, the two-part, hour-long documentary does not exactly amount to a thorough and unbiased history but it is very representative of this reflexive sub-genre that dealt with the evolution of the motion picture. Often such films catered to the audience’s nostalgia in an era where memories of the nickelodeon and the picture palace were very much alive. They also provided a venue for studios to repurpose their library of films for the era of television. Finally, in a more implicit manner, they partook in an evolutionary rhetoric that cast the turn-of-the-century flickers as a primitive manifestation  of an art and industry that by the 1950s and 60s had blossomed into a global entertainment empire.

While film historians have long pointed out the fallacy in such reasoning, it is still useful to  consider these compilation/history documentaries for the narrative of film’s development that they provide, the moments along this trajectory that they choose to highlight and, just as important, what they obscure or gloss over.

Film Firsts has references to all the usual highlights: Edison’s Black Maria studio, Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, Melies’ Trip to the Moon, as well as a substantial section on early Westerns. This reflects the origins of the project in director Paul Killiam’s “Movie Museum” talks covering “films of historical interest illustrated by clips of vintage 1895 to 1915.” Many similar compilation films started as programs of the lecture circuit, reflecting a significant practice of the non-theatrical market.

Focusing on well-known “screen personalities” like Bronco Billy Anderson, but also delving into more idiosyncratic, behind-the-scenes aspects of the art and craft of moviemaking like special effects and animation, Killam compiles a list of “bests” and “firsts”: the first close-up, the first kiss, the first cartoon, the first western, the first use of lighting for effect, etc. Although, even with the resources that historians and archivists have today it is always perilous to claim any single example of an effect, practice or technique as “the first” of its kind, the authoritative voice of the documentary accurately represents an early vein of film historiography (see also works by Terry Ramsay and Maurice Bardèche and Robert Brasillach in the same period). As the medium was entering its second half-century of life, it was taking stock of pioneers, sentimentally remembering great moments and stars of the past, and “leafing” through its own history, as one might leaf through an old scrapbook or album of photographs.

Film Firsts thus represents this early “scrapbook” phase of historiography, crucial in that it was conducted by the medium itself in an era where it’s viability was threatened by the popularity of television — which is here deployed in the service of the older medium. It was actually the first episode in a six-part series entitled “Silents Please! The History of the Motion Picture” that promised an overview of “the stars, thrills, laughter and heartbreak” of silent cinema. Whether a nostalgic look on a much-evolved medium, a semi-authoritative account of the people and technology that made the motion picture possible or a potpourri of clips and firsts for the consumption a television audience, the film is a valuable document of historiography in practice and as such a valuable addition to our collection covering the history of educational audiovisual media.

For more information on the film see:

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, Internet Archive.

Home Movie Day–A Celebration of Amateur Films and Filmmaking

Do you have a much loved home movie sitting in the back of your closet?  Something you would love to screen but don’t have the means to project anymore?  Then Home Movie Day is for you.  The Internet Archive will be hosting Home Movie Day for the San Francisco Bay Area on Saturday, December 12, 2015 starting at 3 p.m.  The event if free and open to the public.  Reserve your free tickets here.

Home Movie Day provides an opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience from their own community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why these films are important and learn how best to care for them. We will have the film projectors, you are encouraged to bring your own home movies on 8mm, 16mm, or Super 8 to project on our big screen.

From 3:00-5:30 p.m. come enjoy free food and drinks, learn how the Internet Archive digitizes thousands of educational films, and participate in presentations on local history by the Western Neighborhoods Project.

From 5-7 p.m. there will be the Open Screening of your home movies.

8-8:45 p.m. Stay to enjoy some of the Bay Area’s best home movies curated by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and the Internet Archive with live organ music accompanying the (mostly) silent films.

We are still accepting early submissions of your home movies for screening, both at the Internet Archive (300 Funston Avenue, SF) and at the Center for Asian American Media (145 Ninth Street, Suite  350, SF).  Home Movie Day is organized by Pamela Vadakan (California Audio Visual Preservation Project), Antonella Bonfanti (Canyon Cinema/Center for Home Movies), CAAM and the Internet Archive.


Moving Image Archive: New Tools and Digitization work with Educational Films Collection

As part of the effort to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge, The Internet Archive has been actively involved in digitizing and curating the world’s audiovisual heritage. Our collections range from films produced or distributed by the US Government , to educational films on scientific, historical and civic topics used in classrooms throughout the twentieth century. Our Moving Image Archive also hosts collections of significant regional and topical interest, including California Light and Sound of the California Audiovisual Preservation Project and the Prelinger Archives with particular strengths in amateur, industrial and local films.

Non-theatrical motion pictures – meant to be screened outside of the typical commercial theater circuit in schools, local groups or specialized audiences – provide an essential glimpse into corners of history that would otherwise remain obscure or distorted. The Internet Archive holds a wide array of physical collections in a variety of gauges (8mm, super8, 16mm as well as 35mm) that range from home movies and stock footage, to documentaries and entire teaching film collections totaling tens of of thousands of reels. We aim to scan as many of these films as possible and offer them in a variety of file formats with rich descriptions and links to further resources, always emphasizing access and welcoming user comments and contributions to our metadata. We invite visitors to be part of our mission to gather “Visible Evidence” of our past and present.

Key to this effort has been our work on a corpus of educational films, the majority of which were produced for K-12 and college-aged students from the 1940s to the 1970s. They include films from significant collections and repositories on psychology (e.g. the Psychological Cinema Registry), science (Encyclopedia Cinematographica) and art. Our in-house digitization process involves scanning these films at a high resolution (2K where possible), presenting them in a separate, well-curated collection on our site, and working on ways to make them more easily discoverable and more useful to our visitors. Some tools in progress include:

-Voice transcription that generates a text file through which a film’s voice-over and dialogue can be searched (for an example from a recent experiment see here).

-Links in each film page to online resources both within the Internet Archive’s book and journal collections and to our partners at the Media History Project.

-Rich metadata description sourced from the physical collections, educational film catalogues, relevant journals and databases.

Rather than aim for preservation-grade copies of our films – a laborious and costly process that often delays or completely prevents user-access –  we are prioritizing search capabilities, future-proofed video file formats, secure and reliable storage and a user interface that encourages viewing and sharing. Our films will be of interest to educators and researchers, but equally to filmmakers and artists, groups documenting their local history and those that have always wondered how movies became “talkies”

or how Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl managed to cross the Pacific in a raft in 1947.

We are always open to comments, suggestions and ideas. Please let us know what films, functionalities and future improvement you would like to see in our film collections. To be a part of the effort of constructing, curating and conserving the world’s largest digital repository of non-theatrical films, you can email the Internet Archive’s film curator at

Dimitrios Latsis

CLIR-Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for the Visual Studies, Internet Archive