Culpeper, Virginia. The camera slowly pans up exposing a very small man-made body of water and a grid of square and rectangular box-shapes made of concrete. A concave wall of windows is set back within each box. Text fades up on the screen that reads “Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation – Library of Congress” George Willeman is on screen talking about the first films ever made – “all these people who worked on these things are all gone now, but they have left behind these amazing shadows for us to enjoy.”
This is a scene early on in the film “These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America“. Documentarians Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton intersperse film clips and interviews as well as archival footage dating back to the silent era to contextualize the films that were made and why they are important to our culture. Each year 25 films are added to the National Film Registry (part of the Library of Congress) which are deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films”.
The fact that the Packard Campus is just 40 minutes away in Culpeper is a film buffs dream. Each month they put together a film schedule that includes some classic films. Some are on the Registry, some are not. The movies are free, you just need to make a reservation to get a seat. I know, you’re jealous. I understand. What is even better than that is “These Amazing Shadows” in on Netflix instant watch (as well as on DVD), and it’s a great film to watch and get more suggestions of movies to put on your Netflix queue.
The passion with which the archivists do their jobs restoring the films is compelling. The excitement with which the featured actors and directors talk about film discoveries will inspire you to see lots of movies. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress will be your new hero. I can’t recommend “These Amazing Shadows” enough.