David Shepard (1940-2017)

David Shepard, ace film historian and Preservationist

David Shepard, one of the most important figures in film restoration and preservation, passed away on Tuesday, January 31st, after a long illness. I was proud to have known him, starting when we both started working for the American Film Institute’s Archives Division in 1968, soon after its founding. David was the AFI’s first film preservation officer, while I worked across town at the Library of Congress on the Institute’s catalog of American films. The AFI was tasked with implementing the government’s first concerted effort, in cooperation with the Library of Congress, to help rescue the country’s movie heritage. And it was obvious from the get-go, that David was the perfect person for the job. He was also an incredibly generous and compassionate person.

My involvement with his work at the AFI was minimal, though I recall briefly subbing for him in helping acquire what I believe was the Institute’s first acquisition, the first screen version of The Desert Song (Roy Del Ruth, 1929). I also recall being present when David unpacked Paramount’s studio print of E.A. Dupont’s Varieté (Variety) (1925). Looking at the first reel, it quickly became apparent it was the uncut American version, not the abbreviated Museum of Modern Art one; it was print that eventually became the basis for film’s restoration in Germany by the Frederich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation.

Shepard’s involvement with film preservation and history went well beyond the AFI, starting with his involvement with Blackhawk Films, the most important provider of 8mm and 16mm classic films of the pre-video era, which later became part of his own company, Film Preservation Associates; as such, he became involved with the creation of numerous, high-quality DVDs, including Henry King’s Tol’able David (1921), Abel Gance’s La Roue (1922), Chaplin at Keystone (1914), Raoul Walsh’s Regeneration (1915), Anthology Film Archives’ Unseen Cinema: American Avant-Garde Films 1984-1941, many D.W. Griffith films, etc., etc.`He taught film history at the  University of Southern California and was director of its Louis B. Mayer Film & Television Study Center. David ran the Director’s Guild of America’s oral history program for some 10 years; his interviews with King Vidor and Henry King were eventually published in book form. (I vividly recall his presentation of a paper at a Society for Cinema Studies conference on how Vidor’s failed foray into independent production with Our Daily Bread (1934) contributed to the formation of the Director’s Guild.)

For more details on his life and career, there is a good bio posted by Ciné Salon at 20’s “In Dialogue David Shepard: American Film Preservationist,” which has links to several interviews with him. I also recommend blog posts by his friend, Leonard Maltin, and video producer Steve Stanchfield, who discusses Shepard’s role in rescuing Ub Iwerks cartoons. Finally, there’s this video tribute by Serge Bromberg, Leonard Maltin and Kevin Brownlow from Ciné Salon at 20:




David Hand Collection to Animation Hall of Fame

Publicity photo of David Hand at Gaumont British AnimationFor my undergraduate History of Animation class, I’m obliged to give a pretest to judge my student’s knowledge of the topic. A favorite question is, “Who was the director of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi?” Alas, no one has a clue, even though almost every student has seen these films and director David Hand gets prominent screen credit on both films.  My query is meant to be a teaching moment, rather than a trick question, as it brings up a name that tends to be forgotten in animation history.

Now, the Savannah-based Animation Hall of Fame (I’m on their Advisory Board) has announced that David Dodd Hand’s son, David Hale Hand, has donated a collection of “art and artifacts” representing his father’s life’s work.  The announcement gives a quick rundown of his career:

First working for Bray Studios; then Fleischer Studios in New York City, [Hand] quickly rose through the ranks at the Disney Studios to become the Supervising Director of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi, and Production Supervisor, answering only to Walt, a stellar achievement. He had his hand in the development of all films at Disney from 1930–1944. Then he impacted Europe by heading the GB Animation Studio with J. Arthur Rank, the major British animation studio and school of the time. Before he retired, he went on to producing and directing for the Alexander Film Company in Colorado.

For more information on Hand, see  Bob Egby’s David Hand the Moor Hall Collection website (where I got the photo above), the Disney Studio bio here, and Michael Barrier’s wonderful interview here.

A Trip to the Moon: Back in Color

A Trip to the Moon - Right in the Eye

A Trip to the Moon Back in color coverThe Bioscope, Luke McKernan’s invaluable blog, notes that tomorrow the Cannes Film Festival is presenting “what may be the film restoration to beat all other film restorations—the colour version of Georges Méliès‘ Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902).” While the film is far from being lost,  all known hand-colored prints of the film were considered lost until 1993, when a copy, in very poor shape, was turned up by Filmoteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. The print was then acquired by Serge Bromberg’s Lobster Films, who overcame great odds to restore the film in time for Méliès’ 150th birth year celebration.

A Trip to the Moon Earth Rise

Further information on the restoration can be found at the Technicolor Film Foundation website, where you can also download a pdf of a gorgeous 192-page book,  La couleur retrouvée du Voyage dans la Lune/A Trip to the Moon Back in color, in both French and English, from whence came the illustrations for this post. A Trip to the Moon - The Dream

Bromberg, whose Lobster Films (along with Dave Shepard’s Film Preservation Associates) is one of the most respected brands in classic films on DVD, also serves as Artistic Director of the Annecy International Animation Festival. I only met Bromberg once, during one of his visits to Los Angeles, when he paid a call on animator and film collector Mark Kausler. At the time, Bromberg was elated over his recent discovery of a different cache of Méliès films, which I believe he had turned over to the La Cinémathèque française. Thank God, his enthusiasm for Méliès and his films has not wavered.