Monday, November 7, 2016

In Honor of Film Preservationist David Shepard

Later Today, the American Film Preservationist David Shepard will be honored at a special event at Dartmouth College. Shepard has done as much as anyone to both preserve and promote our film heritage, especially the silent era.

At the event, the famed DVD producer and historian of silent classics speaks to his tireless work to preserve world cinema. Recent restorations by Shepard include Raoul Walsh’s early gangster saga, Regeneration (1915) with Philip Carli’s piano music, all of Charlie Chaplin’s Essanay and Mutual comedies, and Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 with Ciné Salon’s Bruce Posner. More information about the event can be found HERE.

A special tribute video featuring fellow film archivists and historians Serge Bromberg, Leonard Maltin and Kevin Brownlow was made to mark the occasion.

As is evident from the video above, David Shepard is greatly admired by his fellow archivists, preservationists, film historians, and film buffs. That admiration come across in this snapshot, which I took in 2010. For a film buff (such as myself), this was a magical moment. Pictured here is a photograph of colleagues - from left to right that's Kevin Brownlow, Diana Serra Cary (aka Baby Peggy), David Shepard, and Leonard Maltin.

Born in 1940, and raised in New Orleans and the suburbs of New York, David Shepard has had a lifelong love of film, having devoted most of his life to film preservation. Through teaching and shcolarship, through his company, Film Preservation Associates, through his ownership of the Blackhawk Films library, and through his film and video restoration efforts, Shepard has long worked behind the scenes helping save early films. Just as importantly, Shepard makes these films available to the home video market, first through laserdisc and VHS formats, and now through high-quality DVD releases, "where the clarity and beauty of these early motion pictures can really be fully appreciated."

In the words of Mike Mashon, Head, Moving Image Section, Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, “David is a giant in the field of film preservation, one of those rare talents who exemplifies the scholar’s rigorous research, the archivist’s attention to detail and the fan’s unabashed love and enthusiasm for movies.”

I have had the pleasure of being acquainted with David Shepard for more than a decade. He is a fine fellow. I appreciate having seen the films which he has preserved and brought to DVD as well as the silver screen. I also enjoyed reading and treasure my autographed copies of his books on movie legends King Vidor and Henry King. I was also honored to have my picture taken with David Shepard earlier this year.

David Shepard's involvement with silent film also extends to Louise Brooks, and whose now lost 1927 film, The City Gone Wild, he almost saved.

In his 1990 book, Behind the Mask of Innocence, Kevin Brownlow wrote about an incident in the 1970s. “David Shepard, then with the American Film Institute’s archive program, had a list of 35mm nitrate prints held in a vault Paramount had forgotten it had. He asked me which title I would select, out of all of them, to look at right away. I said The City Gone Wild. He called Paramount to bring it out of the vaults for our collection that afternoon. The projectionist went to pick it up. ‘O, there was some powder on that,’ said the vault keeper ‘We threw it away.’ … He tried to rescue it, even from its watery grave, but a salvage company had carted it off by the time he got there.”

For more about David Shepard and all that he has done, check out these interviews.

Northwest Chicago Film Society: A Conversation with David Shepard

Digitally Obsessed: A Conversation with David Shepard

Silents are Golden: Interview with David Shepard

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