IU Libraries Moving Image Archive preserves, shares Indiana University’s unique film assets

guy maddin

Guy Maddin shares clips from “Seances” and “The Forbidden Room,” which reinvent lost films: “It’s like the lost movies are projected onto ectoplasm that’s moving, very filmy and ghostlike.”

When filmmaker Guy Maddin visited Indiana University last month, he told a class of film preservation students that he is haunted by the specter of lost films.

IU Libraries Moving Image Archive

The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive is located in the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility.

“This is the first time I’ve had an audience that knows what lost films are,” Maddin said.

The Film Foundation estimates that more than half of the films created before 1950 and 80 percent made before 1929 are gone forever, with all copies degraded, destroyed or discarded.

Maddin’s response to the lost art has been a creative one. Through his “Seances” and “The Forbidden Room” projects, he has devoted five years to reinventing lost films, based on surviving titles, descriptions and his own wild imagination.

Unlike Maddin, film archivists can’t conjure lost works from the past. What they can do is collect, protect and restore imperiled works and make them accessible to the public.

At Indiana University, this is the work of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive.

Film wonders

“I love many things about the collection, and could talk for hours about the uniqueness and treasures that we hold and preserve,” said Rachael Stoeltje, director of the Moving Image Archive.


Andy Uhrich is film archivist at the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive.

Two films in IU collections, “Wolf’s Trail” and “Sky High Corral,” are the last known copies of what once were major Hollywood movies from Universal Pictures. The 1927 Francis Ford film “Wolf’s Trail” was described in ads as “a good thrill picture” about police dog Dynamite the Wonder Dog, also called the Devil Dog. The western “Sky High Corral” was made a year earlier by Clifford S. Smith, and features its own dog, Rex, in addition to Raven, the Wonder Horse.

These films escaped extinction as part of the collection of director David S. Bradley, which was acquired by the Lilly Library in 1997.

Stoeltje said the Moving Image Archive now holds about 108,000 items.

“You have to plumb the depths,” said Andy Uhrich, film archivist and Ph.D. student in Communication and Culture. “You sort of dive in and find these really special films.”

A reel education

The Moving Image Archive has a greater importance beyond its rare, individual films. “The more that we bring together as a whole, it raises the value of each individual item in the collection,” Uhrich said.

The archive is dominated by its rich collection of educational films, which he described as “a lot of unexplored documents on a lot of topics.”

Moving Image Archive film reels

The IU Libraries Moving Image Archive holds a large and growing number of educational films.

For more than 75 years, the university circulated educational slides and films, many of them produced here, to school districts around the state for little or no charge.

In a way, these films are the opposite of the lost silent-era Hollywood films with a trail of materials describing them. Many educational films survive, but often very little is known about their filmmakers or their production.

“The exciting thing about educational film is it’s an under-described area of scholarship because it wasn’t really taken seriously,” Uhrich said.

Collectively, these films offer a lost social history on how different topics were viewed at various points in time. “What they offer is a history of film, a history of culture. It requires a different kind of examination.”

World War II film exhibit

To mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day last year, the Moving Image Archive created an online exhibit of 117 World War II propaganda films made between 1940 and 1945.


“The Thousand Days” is part of the “WWII Propaganda Films and IU” online exhibit.

Stoeltje is especially proud that on the anniversary of D-Day,  June 6, an additional 84 titles will be unveiled as part of the exhibit.

“These are all films that have never before been seen or digitized elsewhere,” she said. “This will bring the exhibit to over 200 unique, historic, amazing films, many made by the U.S. Department of War or the Army Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps.”

“During World War II every film was directed towards the war effort. Every film became propaganda,” Uhrich said.

Because of this, the WW II films actually cover a wide array of subjects and touch many aspects of civilian life. One example is the newly digitized film “You Can’t Eat Tobacco,” which captures the plight and poverty of tenant farmers.

Public screenings

Films from the Moving Image Archive also are shared through occasional public screenings, such as “Social Guidance Sundays” at The Bishop Bar in Bloomington. In April, the program featured educational films narrated by none other than Orson Welles. The monthly series is scheduled to resume in August.

Also, at a recent South Side Projections event in Chicago, Uhrich presented a program about how educational films from the 1960s and early 1970s dealt with the struggle for racial equality.


George Heighway is shown in this 1945 photo from IU Archives.

Ongoing efforts

Uhrich said the Moving Image Archive is “still always ingesting” new items.

Because film reels require more one-on-one attention than some other types of media, they are not directly involved in the first phase of the university’s larger Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. Still, the same spirit of preservation is already underway in the archive, and active planning has begun to address these films in future phases.

Graduate students in the film preservation class Stoeltje and Uhrich taught have gained practical experience by pitching in. During the semester, each student chose a work, justified its selection, then inspected it, supervised its digitization, researched its history and provided access to the film through a screening or online posting.

For his project, Seth Mitter, a graduating Master of Library Science student from Bloomington who also has worked as an assistant in the archive, worked on “Epileptic Seizure Patterns.” “I chose to work on this film because of its connection with Paul Sharits,” Mitter said. Sharits was an avant-garde artist and filmmaker from IU who used some of the scenes in his well-known 1976 film “Epileptic Seizure Comparison.”


“Booze and You’s” is a 1977 educational film that warns about the dangers of overindulgence.

The 1963 film now is available for online viewing alongside a wide variety of science, how-to and other educational films.

Among the archive’s more unusual offerings online are the cautionary film “Booze and You’s” and the portrait of a mammal that children have dressed in a hula skirt, “Chucky Lou — Story of a Woodchuck.”

The Moving Picture Archive also collaborates with other collections at the university, such as a partnership with the Office of Archives and Records Management that has digitized the home movies of George Heighway, a former alumni secretary and executive director of the IU Foundation. The films provide a time capsule view of Brown County life and the Bloomington campus in the 1920s through 1940s.

All the right stuff

“Humans create a lot of stuff,” Uhrich said.

Part of an archivist’s job is to recognize which stuff has enduring value.

VHS tapes have recently transitioned from useful things to archival objects. And archivists now must weigh whether video games and social media can or should be preserved for the future.

“This happens with collections,” he said. “Someone is just using it and you don’t think about it, and then it gets old enough and you realize, ‘Wait! This is rare, valuable.”

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