Which films are worth preserving?

While the Oscars are fully competitive, the annual list of 25 films recommended for inclusion in the National Registry of Films at the Library of Congress is all about collecting, conserving and recognizing films of cultural and historical importance. Yet it is still a competition of sorts as the Nominating Committee consisting of scholars, critics, filmmakers, museum curators, archivists and industry professionals meet each year in Washington DC to discuss and root for the inclusion of one film or another.

David Sterritt, a National Film Preservation Board member, regularly attends to debate and reach consensus. A movie critic since 1960s and former Chairperson of National Society of Film Critics, he is Editor-in-Chief of The Quarterly Review of Film and Video. David finds the nomination process enriching telling us that “this is not a committee that gives awards to movies that made them cry” but one which seeks films that “actually reflect American culture at the period of the history they represent.”

All types of content, genre and purpose are considered, including avant garde movies never designed to see the inside of a theater. Some films have had a hard time being included – there was a lot of discussion about Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) and Van Peebles Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). But if a film doesn’t make it through one year, there’s always next year.

So perhaps our sense of what is historically important is equally shaped by when films are included in the Registry. Just in case you are thinking of nominating your own film, remember that it must be ten years old, at which point its significance as part of the nation’s cultural imagination can be properly judged.

David Sterritt calls this work “a lifetime commitment” and it could be for you too, because the general public is invited to send in their votes online here.

But you all have to wait for 2019 now because this year’s list will be announced on December 12, 2018. Will Melvin Van Peebles Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song make it through?

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