Dow Visiting Scholar talks importance of film archiving

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On Wednesday, Feb. 15, SVSU hosted Dow visiting scholar Janna Jones of Northern Arizona University in the Ott Auditorium.

Jones is known for her work within the film industry, more specifically with film archiving, which was the main topic of her lecture Wednesday night.

Jones stated she is mostly interested in film history and the preservation of films as they deteriorate. Her goal is to find films worth preserving and then begin the path of restoring those films in an attempt to keep them alive within our history.

Jones was inspired to begin her journey in film preservation by her discomfort with the amount of different types of people who are unfairly misrepresented or underrepresented within film.

“You can see I’m white. I’m a Swede, as a matter of fact, so they don’t get much whiter than that,” Jones said. “But even in my screenplays, there’s lots of Latinos, Latinas, African-Americans … I just feel like I have this privilege, I get to have this voice. I get to do this … and my way of serving is to help represent people that have not had that representation.”

Jones is a professor, scholar and author of such books as “The Past is a Moving Picture: Preserving the Twentieth Century Film” and “Summer Movie Palace” as well as several screenplays.

The main purpose of her lecture was to show and discuss the film she found and put on the path to restoration. The film is a short, silent film from 1939 simply titled “Navajo Rug Weaving.” The film itself is rather self-explanatory—the rug weaving process of a Navajo woman—but Jones feels as if the significance of the film goes far beyond just informative value.

“My mission was to recover the film, to get it preserved, but more importantly, to tell the story of these people who helped make the film,” Jones said. “The filmmaker makes no attribution to them, doesn’t give them any credit in the film, doesn’t name them in the film, doesn’t even mention where they are, as if they are suspended in time and space.”

Due to the time in which “Navajo Rug Weaving” was filmed, the importance of crediting those within the film, especially if those in question were minorities, was much less considered than it is today.

To restore and preserve a film, it can cost as much as $30,000, if not more. Therefore, Jones made it clear that she would not have chosen a film if it was not worth the time, effort, and resources to preserve.

“I was able to give context to this film. I was able to give this film real history and give this beautiful family the attribution that they deserved,” Jones said.

Jones has shown the film in various different locations, but it was her response from the native people associated with the film that made the process worth it for her. Jones had known it all along, but to see the reaction of the Navajo people to her film made it even clearer that these people deserve to be shown as they are and not how Hollywood generally depicts them.

“Native Americans don’t get a lot of opportunities to celebrate their cultural contributions,” Jones said. “This was an occasion where we were able to do that.”

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