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The Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center

It is the mission of the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center to actively conserve, preserve and restore the Nation's motion picture heritage in the collections of the Library of Congress's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (M/B/RS). Since the early 1970's, the Library of Congress has maintained an active film preservation program. It is currently the only such program in the United States funded primarily with public monies.

In the late 1960's, the Library began storing much of its nitrate film archive at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located just northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The Air Force offered the Library the use of its motion picture facility, which included 100 purpose- built nitrate storage vaults.

By the early 1970's, the Library was involved in a cooperative project with the American Film Institute (AFI) and was accepting large gift collections of nitrate film from many of Hollywood's major studios. These included Columbia, Universal, Warner Brothers, and MGM. Today, under the stewardship of M/B/RS, the nitrate film holdings, dating from the 1890's through 1950, exceed 100 million feet.

The Motion Picture Conservation Center at Wright-Patterson AFB now consists of two primary facilities, the Film Vaults and the Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory. The Center currently has 20 full and part-time employees, almost half of which are paid for through the use of Gifts and Trust funds.

The Film Vaults facility provides safe storage for the highly flammable nitrate film by maintaining the environment at a temperature of 52 to 55 degrees fahrenheit and a relative humidity between 35 and 40 percent. Additional safety features include special double doors which will automatically close in the event of a fire, and blow out panels which would help to direct the flames and smoke from a fire away from the other vaults.

The facility's 100 vaults are separated in half by a central corridor, with all doors opening towards the corridor. Each vault can hold up to 1000 or more reels of nitrate film stored in metal cans on cores. All films are stored flat (not on edge), the current recommended practice for archiving master material.

The Motion Picture Preservation Laboratory moved to Dayton from Washington in 1981. It consists of a nitrate vault for the temporary storage of film as it is being preserved, along with nitrate preparation, timing, printing, developing and viewing facilities. Most of the equipment in the Laboratory has been modified in order to properly copy the aging and shrunken nitrate films. In addition, full immersion printers are used in order to photographically conceal the scratches and other base defects found on old films. All black and white films are developed in- house, while color developing is handled under contract at a commercial laboratory.

The Conservation Center has completed a number of major film restorations over the past few years. These include MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), and WITHIN OUR GATES (1920), the oldest surviving feature film directed by an African-American. Current restoration efforts include MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936) and the entire Paper Print Collection, which is being remastered onto 35mm film.

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  August 31, 2010
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