Exhibition Reel of Two Color Film (ca. 1929)

An experimental color short in Brewster Color, preserved by George Eastman House and presented on the More Treasures DVD set.


Contact: Rebecca Payne Collins (415-392-7291, payne@filmpreservation.org)

San Francisco, CA (May 9, 2017)—The National Film Preservation Foundation today launched a new digital access project, an online screening room featuring more than 100 films from The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. Published by the NFPF in 2006, Rick Prelinger’s book was the first overview of the motion pictures commissioned by American businesses, charities, advocacy groups, and state and local government units over the past century. The annotated filmography singled out 452 sponsored films of particular historical, cultural, and artistic interest from the more than 300,000 thought to have been made. Now viewers can see 102 of these films at www.filmpreservation.org/sponsored-films.

As early as the 1900s, filmmakers began creating works to showcase industry, advocate social causes, explain government programs, promote commercial products, and highlight the good work of charities. Such motion pictures came to be called sponsored films, as their production was funded or "sponsored" by corporations, government entities, or non-profits to communicate a specific message.

“Sponsored films offer a picture of 20th-century America that adds a great deal to our understanding of daily life and work, gender roles, persuasion and consensus, politics and culture,” said Rick Prelinger, Associate Professor of Film and Media at UC Santa Cruz, “Each sponsored film is a history lesson that can entertain while offering us serious and useful insights about the past so that we can look more knowledgeably toward the future.”

With the rise of digital streaming, some of these films have made their way online, often in substandard copies that do a disservice to the films. The National Film Preservation Foundation has partnered with the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive to make more than 100 examples available, almost all in HD and available for free download.

Among the highlights are The House I Live In (1945), featuring Frank Sinatra making a plea for religious tolerance as a core American value; More Than Meets the Eye (1952), a mid-century modern animation from John Hubley arguing for the value of radio advertising; the 35mm Technicolor featurette The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair (1939), commissioned by Westinghouse to promote the wonders of technology; Booked For Safekeeping (1960), a police training film produced by the Louisiana Association for Mental Health for instruction on safely handling the mentally disturbed; Design for Dreaming (1939), General Motors’ futuristic fantasia of the 1956 Motorama trade show; and Shake Hands With Danger (1975), a Caterpillar Tractor Co. safety film directed by “Herk” Harvey, the auteur behind the horror classic Carnival of Souls.

“These titles are a constantly rewarding chronicle of lived experience in the modern age, a rich visual resource that will prove invaluable to scholars and casual viewers alike,” said Mike Mashon, Head of the Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress. “The Library has more than 300 of the 452 Field Guide titles in its collection, so it made sense for us to prioritize them for digitization as part of our ongoing preservation activity. And since most are in the public domain, we’re excited to partner with the NFPF to make them available online.”

The films are available via the NFPF site and hosted by the Internet Archive (archive.org), a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. Eighty-three titles come from the Library of Congress. The ten other archives contributing to this digital access project are A/V Geeks, George Eastman Museum, the Hagley Museum and Library, The Museum of Modern Art, the National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Historic Film, the Prelinger Archives, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, UCLA Film & Television Archive, and the USC School of Cinematic Arts Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive. The NFPF will continue to partner with archives to add more sponsored films to the site as high quality copies become available.

The online Field Guide to Sponsored Films adds to several other ongoing web exhibitions launched by the NFPF in recent years including films preserved through NFPF programs, selections from the Treasures DVD series, and films brought back to the United States through international partnerships, including Too Much Johnson, an early unfinished work by Orson Welles. All of these can be viewed in the NFPF Screening Room: www.filmpreservation.org/preserved-films/screening-room.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the non-profit organization created by the U.S. Congress in 1996 to help save America's film heritage. The charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, the NFPF has supported film preservation in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia and has helped save more than 2,290 films and collections. Free copies of The Field Guide to Sponsored Films, which was originally published thanks to the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, can be downloaded from the NFPF Web site (www.filmpreservation.org).

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