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George Eastman Museum awarded $250,000 grant to conserve Indian, Pakistani films

The George Eastman Museum has been awarded a $250,000 grant to conserve more than 1,000 South Asian films. 

A grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services will be used to conserve films which need urgent rehousing and cleaning to prevent decay. The grant program, Museums for America, will also allow all audiences to access the films for free once cataloged.

“Cinema is a world that opens to other cultures… their histories and mythologies,” said Caroline Yeager, associate curator in the moving image department at George Eastman Museum. “Travel has been so difficult with the pandemic, so people won’t be able to live that experience. Cinema helps to bridge that.”

Over the years, the Eastman Museum has acquired more than 1,200 Indian and Pakistani film prints in more than 10 languages. In 2014, hundreds of films were salvaged from an abandoned multiplex in California. Others have been donated by the British Film Institute National Archive, while others have come from a closed-down cinema in Texas. Yeager said it is an unusual and rare assembly of film prints from the subcontinent dating back to the 1930s.

Peter Bargrov with the George Eastman House said that the museum’s South Asian collection covers almost 75 years of film history, from 1939 to 2013. Many of those titles are from acclaimed Indian and Pakistani cinema masters, he said.

The collections include Indian directors like Sanja Leela Bhansali and Ashutosh Gowariker, and Pakistani directors such as Anwar Kmal Pasha and S. Nayyar, said Yeager.

Two film specialists will be hired full-time to complete the restoration and conservation project. Yeager said they will have their work cut out for them as some of the film prints have been “living the life of junk, which they are not.” She said that some have been stored in rusted film cans, and in their original shipping cases from 30 to 40 years ago.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.
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