September 30, 2015

#AskAnArchivist Day 2015 is October 1st!

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 6.40.03 PM

We are looking forward to #‎AskAnArchivist‬ Day, happening TOMORROW October 1st! Rather than looking to the Twittersphere, our archivists will be answering your questions on the HFA Facebook page. Please post any curiosities you have about Home Movie Day, how we process our archival collections, or the most oddball items that we have found in the archive. Ask us anything! No question is too big or too small!


Posted in Archives on 30 September 2015 at 10:52 am by conservator3
September 28, 2015

Home Movie Day 2015 is just around the corner!


HMD 2014

Greetings, home movie makers and fans! It’s that time again and we hope you will join us for our annual screening of your home movies.

What is Home Movie Day? For more than a decade, film archivists and the public have been convening in small spaces all over the globe and gathering around flickering images of times of yore. Grandmothers and babies, now since gone or grown, smile and wave to the camera-person as we watch them through the magical time machine of cinema. Vacations! Parties! Amateur theatricals! There is always something interesting and funny to watch, and we hope you will join us for this year’s event.

This year the Boston area HMD 13 will be held at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston’s Back Bay.

As always, this event is free and open to the public.

Saturday, October 17, 2015
3pm film check in
5pm-7:30 film screening

early film drop off encouraged at the HFA offices in the lower level of the Carpenter Center, Harvard University, or by 3pm on October 17 at NEHGS.

Formats accepted: 8mm, super 8, super 8 sound, 16mm, VHS, DVD, digital files (playable via laptop)

Films will be inspected for damage prior to projection, so please drop-off early.


The HMD 2014 volunteers

Join our Home Movie Day Boston 2015 Facebook Event Page to receive information and updates:

As always, more information is available at the Center for Home Movies, found here:

In related news, this week we will be participating in #AskAnArchivist Day on Thursday, October 1st! This event is sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, and is an opportunity for everyone to reach out with questions about the archives on social media. We will be anticipating YOUR questions, which you can post on Thursday to the Harvard Film Archive Facebook page! This is a great chance to ask us anything about Home Movie Day, how we process our archival collections, or the most oddball items that we have found in the archive. No question is too big or too small!

Posted in HFA events, home movies on 28 September 2015 at 5:27 pm by conservator3
September 24, 2015

Interlibrary loan of 16mm films


Image courtesy of Creative Commons

This afternoon we received a very pleasant, unexpected phone call from a gentleman in Florida who asked if we sent out any of our 16mm films for interlibrary loan. His local library is no longer circulating their 16mm films and this true film enthusiast has been seeking out other options. Although we cannot send any of our collection materials his way, a quick search online indicates that there are, indeed, a few libraries which still send out their 16mm films through ILL, including the Jacksonville Public Library! We hope you see this dear caller and fellow film fan!

Posted in Research requests on 24 September 2015 at 5:07 pm by conservator3
September 18, 2015

Intern Report: The Bruce Ricker Collection

A new post from our fantastic Summer Intern, Derek Murphy!

Diving deep into a stranger’s records can be an intense experience. As the summer 2015 intern at the Harvard Film Conservation Center, I trawled through a career’s worth of documents from the life and work of Bruce Ricker. Ricker was primarily a jazz and blues documentary filmmaker. From his first pivot from law practice to filmmaking in 1974 until his death in 2011, he worked tirelessly to promote education about and appreciation for the music that moved him.

Last of the Blue Devils Japanese posterLast of the Blue Devils


The majority of the papers I organized originated from the production of Ricker’s films. His first feature documentary, The Last of the Blue Devils, saw him capturing and preserving some of the final performances the world ever saw from Count Basie, Big Joe Turner, and several other prominent musicians from the 1920’s Kansas City jazz scene. The film was treasured by jazz enthusiasts, eventually attracting the attention of Clint Eastwood.  A lifelong listener and performer of jazz music, Eastwood loved the film, and contacted Ricker out of the blue. The two met for dinner and began a friendship that led to the creation of several more films. Most notably, Ricker and Eastwood collaborated on one of Ricker’s most well-known films, Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser. The 1988 documentary featured rare and previously unreleased archival footage of some of Monk’s later performances before illness ended his career, and eventually his life. It also contained interviews with many of Monk’s creative collaborators and loved ones after his death.

eastwood and ricker

Ricker and Eastwood’s collaboration did not end there. The two worked together on the production of documentaries about Budd Boetticher, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mercer, and Dave Brubeck. Additionally, Ricker directed two documentaries about Eastwood.  Ricker started Rhapsody Films, through which distributed his and other noteworthy films about jazz and blues.  As I got a handle on Ricker’s papers I saw marketing materials, catalogs, notes, correspondence, and research related to the company.

The Harvard Film Archive prioritizes multimedia holdings over papers when processing materials, so when I came on board, Ricker’s papers had been only partially described, and had not yet been arranged. The goal of my internship was to describe the papers that hadn’t yet been looked at, and arrange the totality of them into series to help create a finding aid for the collection. On my first day, I was given four boxes of papers straight from Ricker’s filing cabinets, still in their original order. Over the course of several weeks, I dove into these papers. I kept a spreadsheet where I entered information about the folders and papers I encountered, to aid in their later arrangement. This was a great learning experience. It was very satisfying to make connections between papers I’d seen in completely different boxes, and come to realizations about their place in Ricker’s oeuvre.

I was not familiar with Ricker or his work when I began my internship, but by my last day I felt a strange closeness to him. Even though I’ll never meet him, I think that my work at the HFA has given me a strong sense of his personality. I am working on my own feature-length documentary right now, so as I looked over his notes and production documents, I got a good feel for his process, and I felt a certain kinship. I even picked up a few good tips from looking at his workflow! It’s a bit uncanny, getting to know a man through the incidental papers he left behind, but I’m thankful that I got the chance to.

My internship at the HFA was extremely instructive for me, and the time I spent there was completely worthwhile. I was able to pick up hands-on skills in working with both paper and film collections. It really grounded the theory I’ve been learning in my archives classes at Simmons College’s School of Library and Information Science. In addition to the expansion of my archives knowledge, I also learned the basics of physical film handling, something I’ve wanted to do for many years. Both of my supervisors were very generous with their time, willing to answer any questions I had. They were extremely skilled and they were happy to help me pick up some of those skills myself. And, most importantly, they were a ton of fun to hang out with!

-Derek Murphy


Posted in interns, jazz, music on 18 September 2015 at 4:25 pm by conservator1
September 9, 2015

A woman for all seasons: processing the Mildred Freed Alberg Papers

This is a guest post from our spring 2015 intern, Gabby Womack!

When I began my internship with the Harvard Film Archive, I knew that I would be working with the papers of a female television and film producer from the 1960s. In fact, Mildred Freed Alberg was one of the reasons I was drawn to the internship. I was curious about what her life was like, what kinds of shows and films she produced, and whether or not she was successful, because I had never heard of her before.

Star Intern, Gabby Womack holding a photograph from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection.

Star Intern, Gabby Womack, holding a photograph from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection.

Mildred Freed Alberg was a female film and television producer from the late 1950s into the 1980s. She began her work in radio and worked her way up to producing TV shows, telemovies, films/documentaries, and a play. She was best known for her work in shows such as Hallmark Hall of Fame (1955-60) and Our American Heritage (1959-62), as well as her documentary The Royal Archives of Elba (1980). Alberg also brought Shakespeare to television, despite much skepticism. Basically, she was awesome and ambitious.

I was excited to dig into her papers once I had an overall idea of her accomplishments. Of course, I was in for some very cool surprises once I began. After weeks of processing, I found a short letter discussing the cast schedules of the film Hot Millions (1968) starring Peter Ustinov and Maggie Smith. Although the find was small, it made me excited. So many Millennials have only seen Maggie Smith in her later years and have come to picture her as Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter films, or Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey. I loved reading Alberg’s letter asking about whether the young starlet was going to become a part of the cast and begin rehearsals. I later found compelling letters discussing the possibilities of casting Muhammad Ali or Johnny Cash as a lead in a movie that never ended up being filmed (Rogue). There were many letters to and from Johnny Cash about the role, attempts to meet, and Alberg’s thoughts on those meetings. The part that I found pretty funny was the way she referred to him as “a young musician who is on the rise and well liked by the younger crowd.”

Promotional item from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection

Promotional item from the Mildred Freed Alberg collection

Mildred Freed Alberg also worked with notable author Elie Wiesel on scripts for the 25th Anniversary of the State of Israel in 1972. It seemed to me that Alberg wanted her work to be as authentic as it could be, and conducted thorough research into Wiesel’s work as well as biblical stories and Israel as a whole. In fact, everything she produced showed the same depth of research. In one episode of Our American Heritage, she received some negative feedback from someone who claimed that she had misrepresented some information on Eli Whitney and his invention of the cotton gin. Alberg did not take kindly to this criticism because they had implied that she had not done her research on everyone in the episode. She wrote back to this person and shared her letter with the heads of the production company she worked for. The letter tore apart the recipient and detailed exactly where she found her information, all the way down to the page number and paragraphs.
Processing the Mildred Freed Alberg collection has shown me how this tough, but likeable, woman worked her way up to the top within the entertainment industry and never let anyone or anything stop her. Before processing this collection, I had no idea women were able to find work within that field besides acting and being assistants. She was an inspiring woman and I believe that she is a great example of what the industry is missing to this day.

Posted in collection update, interns, women filmmakers on 9 September 2015 at 10:00 am by conservator3
September 8, 2015

September Tuesday poster

In honor of Labor Day from the Harvard Film Archive’s vintage poster collection: Akira Kurosawa’s master portrait on class, bureaucracy and one man’s discovered passion for living. Visit the Hollis+ catalog for more images and materials from the HFA collections.

Ikiru (1952)

Posted in poster on 8 September 2015 at 5:01 pm by conservator3
September 1, 2015

The Five Year Diary (1981-1997)


This week I’ve been watching some episodes of Anne Robertson’s Five Year Diary with a visiting researcher.  It’s been great getting back into this work.  There were quite a few exciting finds among reels I’d never seen, including one with a soundtrack recorded during a review at Mass Art.  Anne discusses her work with her professors, Saul Levine and a second, as yet unidentified, man.  This episode is somewhat early in the work (1983), but the discussion is relevant to the work as a whole.

Part of my goal with watching more reels of the Diary is to prioritize reels for digitization.  Presently, 8 reels of the work have been digitized and are available for screenings.  It is our goal to digitize the entire work; we are prioritizing and hope to have more reels available this fall.

The final reel of the Diary (Reel 83, 1997), which was only accidentally so, includes some images that remind me of earlier reels.  There is some focus on weight, a theme from the beginning, as well as the family gravestones, holidays, and, as always the moon.  I’m going to have to watch the entire work – is there an episode without the moon?  The moon and Anne are the constant characters in the film.  Anne travels; her companion the moon meets her there.  Anne goes through cycles of mental stability; the moon waxes and wanes.

The Diary is most obviously a thorough evaluation of the self, but despite Anne’s obsessions about her own body and life, she is also a solid viewer of the natural world.  The moon is the face of it, but we see the seasons closely monitored, plant life, the weather.  Paradoxically, her romantic obsessions are found on television, and on programs that are anything but celebrations of nature.

Here in Cambridge, the summer is drawing to a close.  It’s made most obvious by the return of the students, clearly demonstrated by traffic and restaurant crowds, but Anne’s films remind me to look to the trees that are beginning to brown, the flowers that are going to seed, the vegetables that will require harvest before the frost.

~Liz Coffey

FYD 2 reading definitions of fat and thin

Posted in Anne Robertson, collection update, New England, super 8, Visiting researchers, women filmmakers on 1 September 2015 at 12:45 pm by conservator1
August 13, 2015

A word from the filmmaker

The Arthur H. Freedman Collection at the Harvard Film Archives 

and the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Museum of the Harvard College Library.

Marky Mayhem mini dv tapesStatement by the documentarian Arthur Freedman

August 13, 2015

I am honored to have my life’s work inducted into these prestigious collections. In 2012 I was contacted by Elizabeth Coffey, Film Conservator for the Harvard Film Archive, and by Peter Laurence and David Ackerman of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library. They had heard of my extensive documentation on audio and video of unsigned local bands that played in the nightclubs around Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and surrounding locales. I have had various write-ups and press over the years, and evidently it resonated with the progressive thinking at Harvard to see how it would integrate into an historic place amongst the more recognized works. Special thanks go out to Robert Dennis and Denise Gorayeb, along with those at Harvard who were, are, and will be involved in this project, with whom I am not familiar.

I would like to call to your attention several individuals who had very significant roles in collaboration with me, without whose support much of my work would not have been possible. First and foremost, Patricia Ann Pelland, who is a fine emerging photographer; the photograph of me amongst my recordings was taken by her. Patricia was often my roadie, collaborator on the Boston Archives Project, my wife and partner for over 10 years, and now, a quarter of a century later, still my best friend. Others include Timothy Fulham; Thomas White, videographer at MIT, film maker, guitarist for Unnatural Axe, Beach Combovers and several other bands; Kevin Boisevert; Timothy Jackson; Karen DiBiasse; Linda Cardinal; Paul Lovell; Timothy Maxwell; Steven Nelson; William McCarthy; Joseph and Nabil Sater; William Ruane; Jan Crocker; Mark Hussey, Steven Morse, Tristram Lozaw, Andrew Smith, Kris Fell. I am also grateful to musicians who thanked me from the stage, on their records and cds, and those who signed releases, as well those who called me to come and record them.

My audio recordings were primarily done using cassette tape and 2 microphones.  Video was almost always single camera, either hand-held or tripod.

Occasionally I had equipment problems, and it is a deep regret that I did not have better gear with which to work and additional camera operators with whom to collaborate. During the era in which I was recording, there were very few people doing what I was doing. The time of camera phones and miniature video cameras had not arrived, and 99% of the time I was the only one dedicated to chronicling the careers of bands I cared about. Regardless, the recordings are a time capsule of the music at a time of great creativity and energy. The bands with whom I worked were unsigned, unknown, sometimes underappreciated, and often forgotten. There were many times I would be one of only a few people in the audience. Those of you who attend large venue concerts do not have the connection to the musicians as I have had. I invite you to listen to these bands and let your imagination take you to dive bars with a dance floor where the audiences’ heads are bopping and a dance called the pogo is hep cat go man go!

Since very early in my recordings, I always wanted the bands to be vested in the project; I tried to make the recordings and my time available. The tapes were becoming more numerous and preservation of the fragile magnetic media was always on my mind, but due to financial constraints, time and resources, it has taken till now with the wonderful folks at Harvard to begin this monumental project. The recordings had never been properly cataloged and now that that has been accomplished, I am astonished at the breadth of what I have done. I still have additional recordings that I will be adding to this collection and there are some real treasures in those.

This collection will include additional works from me shortly and over time. On 7.26.1981, I was recording Mission of Burma and The Stains at the Paradise. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and my car was stolen. In it was a case containing nearly 60 sets of my favorite early tapes I had recorded; they were never recovered. It is my hope that in watching, listening, and discovering the bands among my recordings that you step out, pay the cover charge and see some of these great bands yourselves. Please support live music, buy bands’ compact discs, records, and merchandise, and immerse yourself in one of the coolest eras of creativity. You will have the best times of your lives.

As I have previously mentioned, most of these bands are likely unknown to you, so I will offer several websites that can be useful in learning more:

Some of the performers and participants whose voices have been silenced:

I invite band members band members to sign releases, donate cds, records, tapes, set lists, personnel lists and contact information, posters, and flyers from any of the sets listed and help to make this one of the most important music history collections of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Thank you to all who give this project more than a passing glance.

Arthur Freedman


It was Tom White (Unnatural Axe, Beach Combovers) who tipped me off to Arthur’s collection.  I had recently been talking to Billy Ruane about his own extensive collection of local band recordings, and was rather heartbroken to learn that most of these tapes were lost when Billy stopped paying the bill on a storage container.  I didn’t want anything to happen to Arthur’s recordings, and hoped he would be interested in getting them into cold storage at Harvard.  We were very pleased when he agreed to give us this important collection.  ~Liz Coffey

Posted in Arthur Freedman Collection, Local interest, Rock and Roll on 13 August 2015 at 4:17 pm by conservator1
August 4, 2015

Tuesday poster

For our August selection, the world premiere screening poster for Ed Pincus and David Newman’s powerful documentary, Black Natchez. The Ed Pincus Collection finding aid has information for HFA materials on this and other projects.


Black Natchez (1967)

Posted in Ed Pincus Collection, poster on 4 August 2015 at 5:40 pm by conservator3
June 19, 2015

Images from the Soviet Film Collection

We have come across some compelling images in the Soviet Film Collection prints. Herewith a selection of our staff favorites, with photos from project film specialist Adrianne Jorge:



A Great Life (1939)


The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)


Regina (1990)


The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)


The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)


Watch out for the Automobile! (1966)


Malva (1957)


The Thirteenth Apostle (1988)


The Thirteenth Apostle (1988)


Tears Dripped (1983)


Unidentified film


Unidentified film


We are from Kronstadt (1936)


We are from Kronstadt (1936)


Native Blood (1963)


A Great Life (1939)


Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)


Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)


Twenty-Six Commissars (1932)


Unidentified film

Posted in Archivists' pick, new collections, Soviet Film Collection on 19 June 2015 at 3:56 pm by conservator3