Heavy iron!

Found at the National Archives and Records Administration, this footage consists of pristine 35mm black and white outtake footage for a New Deal documentary on unemployment directed by the great documentary film maker Pare Lorentz and shot by Oscar winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby. The footage shows vintage 1930’s heavy industry to emphasize the productive capacity of the U.S. economy, even while recovering from the Great Depression. Based on a radio documentary entitled “Ecce Homo” (Latin for “behold the man”), the production was later named more prosaically “Name, Age and Occupation.” Work stopped on the film when House Republicans de-funded New Deal film making.

As the work product of a U.S. Government employee, this footage meets the definition of a “U.S. Government work” in U.S. law, making it ineligible for copyright protection. A full production file for this film exists at Columbia University, but almost all of the outtake footage is at the National Archives. This footage, and hundreds of rolls like it, is not described on the Internet and has no content description available in the National Archives Catalog, effectively rendering it available only to those willing and able to do a “deep dive” into the available material. Don’t depend on a production assistant or intern to find the exact footage to add impact to your production or exhibit. A professional media researcher adds value!

Flying Tigers!

From the National Archives’ Record Group 306 (The Records of the United States Information Agency), this footage was found in a collection called “Library Stock Shots”. Apparently no logging exists of the thousands of rolls in this collection. It includes pre-war footage of various domestic U.S. scenes, inherited from the wartime “Office of War Information”, as well as wartime footage from multiple sources, including the U.S. Armed Forces, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and Italy. These rolls may exist in multiple other collections and archives, but without detailed description, locating imagery is a matter of hard work, and sometimes, serendipity!

This particular roll contains footage of the “American Volunteer Group” operating out of Kunming, China. Note the distinctive “tiger teeth” livery on the aircraft and the lack of U.S. emblems on the uniforms of the volunteers. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the volunteers were folded back into the U.S. Army Air Forces, becoming known as the 23rd Fighter Group. Their commander, Capt. Claire Chennault, appears in the film.

Silent footage of World War I Draft and Mobilization

Historic anniversaries and social media are increasingly used to promote and make available archival footage. This footage from the U.S. Army shows the process of instituting a draft and mobilizing for the “war to end all wars”. The footage remained under-described, inaccessible, and without high quality digital surrogates for many years, until the centennial anniversary of U.S. involvement in that war arrived in 2017. Because of the attention the anniversary brought to the topic, the National Archives prioritized the digitization, description and access of this silent footage. Sadly, many thousands of U.S. Government produced moving image titles (as well as material donated to the National Archives) don’t attract the same attention and remain undescribed and largely unseen.

Professional researchers such as myself play an essential role in locating critical footage and stills for documentary films and publications. These uses draw attention and resources toward describing, preserving and making available millions of hours of recorded moving image content.

Feel the burn!

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General Leslie R. Groves, military chief of the Manhattan Project, examines a test tube of plutonium! This screenshot is from newsreel outtakes (originally on 35mm motion picture film) in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.

This footage is not described in the National Archives catalog and isn’t locatable through Google. Don’t depend on an intern or production assistant to locate the footage that will add unique impact to your documentary film or other production. Consult a free-lance archival film research professional! hashtag#filmproduction hashtag#archivalresearch

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