“Understanding the history of movies is an important part of what we do even as we look to the future,” Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences COO Ric Robertson said in his welcoming remarks for the 12th annual Academy Film Scholars luncheon Monday at Hollywood & Highland’s Twist restaurant. Just three weeks after handing out Oscars in the same location, the Academy was giving more honors — this time with a check attached.
Joining 13 other Academy scholars currently working on projects are Hamilton College professor of critical studies Scott MacDonald and NYU associate professor of cinema studies Dan Streible. Each will receive $25,000 for their efforts — half was presented to them today with the other half due upon completion. Among those scholars in attendance was Peter Decherney, a 2009 grantee who recently delivered his Acad-inspired book, Hollywood’s Copyright Wars, and gave a lecture on the subject Monday night for the Academy.
MacDonald’s project is In The Cambridge Turn In Documentary Filmmaking, MacDonald will look at the history and provide analysis of ethnographic filmmaking and personal documentary — two forms of the art developed in Cambridge. As the author of 13 books (a fact Academy Grants Committee chair Buffy Shutt joked in her intro pretty much “guarantees” the book will get done), MacDonald told me he has tried for many years to get one of these prestigious Academy grants. And as he said in his acceptance speech, “as a film scholar you try to find money to buy time”, labeling himself as a champion of avant-garde and experimental filmmaking for more than 40 years.
Streible will focus his study on films that have largely been forgotten or ignored in many different ways in his manuscript proposal, titled Orphan Films: Saving, Studying And Screening Neglected Cinema. The book will cover films that have been abandoned or suffered “physical, historical or cultural neglect” including newsreels, silents, shorts, indie and studio features docs, outtakes and animation. In his remarks, he gave as an example an early 16MM amateur film parody of Army training films called How To Light A Cigar by legendary director Samuel Fuller. He also plugged an upcoming Orphan Film Symposium April 11-14 at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image and mentioned that a two-disc DVD set will be handed out that is chock-full of these overlooked gems.
Established in 1999, the Academy Film Scholars program is “designed to stimulate and support the creation of new and significant works of film scholarship about aesthetic, cultural, educational, historical, theoretical or scientific aspects of theatrical motion pictures”. And YOU thought they just handed out Oscars, right? This is just one of many outreach programs where the Academy puts its money where its mission is. Additionally, the Academy Foundation annually grants over $1 million to film scholars, cultural organizations and film festivals worldwide. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, attending her first Scholars luncheon Monday, told me it is a goal of hers to further the Academy’s achievements in all of these areas, as well as of course the Academy’s movie museum planned with LACMA, for which they are in the process of securing funding.