The Incredible Unseen Film Archives Of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

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D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus are documentary filmmakers who've recorded 60 years' worth of memorable folks in some of history's most culturally significant moments. Reels upon reels of their footage, tons of which hasn't been seen in decades, is stored in a Cold War-era limestone mine.

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Iron Mountain in Boyers, Pennsylvania, is home to an immense stash of prints, negatives, and film of all kinds—millions of artifacts in total. A short documentary earlier this year offered a glimpse inside the naturally refrigerated facility, and now the New York Times takes a closer look at the couple's archives capturing familiar politicians and musicians and artists up close.

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There is something supremely fascinating about the idea—the reality!—that these intimate outtakes and unreleased clips exist, ready to offer an alternate perspective on the past that in so many ways seems to be already written. Especially since the shoulder-hoisted 16mm cameras Pennebaker helped develop made for some truly personal moments.

Both of the filmmakers have a somewhat detached connection to their treasures that is as bemusing as it is surprising. Pennebaker's take? "We don't know what to do with them. There's probably someplace that you could grind them into the earth and they'd help something grow, but I don't know about what that is. So we just leave them in their boxes and cans." And Hegedus: "There's so much of it. Your tendency is to get rid of it: 'Why do we need this? Why do we want that?' But all sorts of people will find value in film that's of a different generation." Heck yes they will! Here's hoping it always has a safe home, and eventually gets digitized for guaranteed preservation. [New York Times]

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DISCUSSION

randomphotographer
RandomPhotographer

Fascinating stuff. I believe my calling is to be an archivist going through old negatives and films like these, cataloging and digitizing them for posterity. I'd do it for free, for the love of film and history even.