Identifying and Preserving the Indian Cinema Collection

Submitted by Guest Post,

My name is Spencer Churchill, and I am a recent graduate of the two-year Masters program in film preservation from The L Jeffery Selznick School at the George Eastman Museum and the University of Rochester. I am also proud to say that I am the newest part-time addition to the George Eastman Museum staff. For the entire month of November, I have been busy inspecting several features from the Indian Cinema Collection; a recent acquisition of the George Eastman Museum that I began with my colleague John Morton in the Spring of 2015.

As students of The L Jeffery Selznick School of Film Preservation, both John and I worked diligently to populate a database system to aid in the future identification of more than seven-hundred Bollywood, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu films. By recording several areas of specified metadata, what had originally presented itself as a labyrinth of burlap-wrapped boxes and pallets, could now be dissected by title, print number and location. A flag system was also implemented early in the project in order to further narrow our searches down to a specific area. Processing films in a non-Latin language was not only a unique challenge from both a phonetic and archival perspective, but served as the subject of a panel in which I participated in at the 2015 Association of Moving Image Archivists in Portland, Oregon. After my partner and I had finished the initial phase of the Indian Cinema Collection project, it was up to three wonderful Selznick students of the 2016 class (Robert Lemos, Seth Crumrine. and Caleb McCandless) to begin the project’s second phase: inspection.

Following the conclusion of my academic obligations at the university and museum, the first phase of the project had been completed. However, there still remained a sizable portion of the collection’s immense back-catalog to be inspected. I was elated to hear that the Indian Cinema Collection had been selected as one of the fundraising objectives for the annual Photo 5K Race at the George Eastman Museum. I worked hard alongside my project advisor and collection manager in the Moving Image Department, Deborah Stoiber and another student colleague of mine, Claire Muggia, to raise the necessary funds for the task at hand.

We had an overwhelming response to the project as we exceeded our initial goal by over one hundred and fifty dollars. With the funds raised, I graciously accepted a part-time position to continue the inspection of 35mm films from the Indian Cinema Collection. So far I have completed inspections of three films: Victory (2009), Oops! (2003) and Mumbai Xpress (2005). Victory, a 2009 film directed by Ajit Pal Manga, is a sports drama concerning a star cricket-player’s return after suffering a debilitating injury. Oops! is the controversial 2003 debut of director Deepak Tijori that follows the illustrious life of male strippers. Mumbai Xpress is a 2005 comedy that follows three amateur thieves as they plot to kidnap the son of wealthy man. 

It is wholly due to the community’s generosity that I am writing this entry on my work with the Eastman Museum and for that, I am eternally grateful. The work on the Indian Cinema Collection is far from over, but having the opportunity to work with such an exciting group of titles has been a privilege that I will not soon forget.

Whether you’re interested in screwball comedies, lavish dance sequences, adrenaline-pumping action or heart-wrenching love stories, be sure to check the Dryden Theatre’s programming calendar in the months ahead for features from this incredibly diverse collection.

[Photo credits: John Morton recovering film reels from the Indian Cinema Collection, taken by Spencer Churchill (right), and Spencer Churchill examining film, taken by Deb Stoiber (left)]

Wednesday, December 7, 2016