March 26, 2015

Now Playing at the MHS Research Center!

Lory Morrow, Photograph Archives Manager

Recognizing the importance of motion pictures and the need to preserve them as historical records, the Research Center’s Photograph Archives began collecting films in the 1960s.  Our collection includes films produced by Montana film makers, production companies, and by state agencies.  As an archive, we are primarily concerned with preserving our film holdings and making them available for viewing by researchers.  With this goal in mind, in 2009, Molly Kruckenberg, the Research Center’s Director, applied to the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) for a grant to preserve and digitize three of the Research Center’s films.

NFPF gives grants for film preservation to United States public and 501(c)3 nonprofit institutions that provide public access to their collections. These grants target orphan films (films “that lack either clear copyright holders or commercial potential” to pay for their preservation) made in the U.S. The grants must be used to pay for laboratory work involving the creation of: 1) new film preservation elements, 2) two new public access copies (one of which must be a film print), and 3) closed captioning for sound films destined for Web or television exhibition.

View of water running through lower tunnel portal of Tunnel #2,
Fort Peck Dam, circa 1939. Still from film titled
Construction of the Fort Peck Dam (1939–1950) taken
by Jerold Van Faasen.
From our first grant application in 2009 until 2013, the Research Center has been awarded five NFPF awards for the preservation and duplication of eleven historic motion picture films in the collection:

2009 Grant
Construction of the Fort Peck Dam (1939–1950), three (color and silent) films taken by Jerold Van Faasen, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil engineer, of the construction of Fort Peck Dam and events that took place during this massive Public Works Administration project near Glasgow, Montana; including footage of President Harry S. Truman’s visit to the dam in 1950.  Catalog #PAc 94-31

2010 Grant
• Ceremonial Dances of the Pueblo Indians (1934), two black and white, silent films containing rare footage of Native American dances, filmed by Glenn C. Morton, an amateur photographer and film maker from Lewistown, MT.  In 1934, Morton traveled to New Mexico, where he filmed Indians of the San Ildefonso Pueblo dancing the Buffalo Dance and the Flag Dance.  Catalog #PAc 85-16.
• Growing Baby Beef in Montana (1933–1934), ranch manager Glenn C. Morton’s film documentation of ranch operations at the Green Ranch, operated by Ed T. Grove and the Pioneer Ranch Company, Inc., located west of Buffalo, MT.  The three black and white, silent films have subtitles that explain the ranch’s operations and the footage illustrates the methods used on the ranch to raise Hereford cattle (including calving, branding, testing for diseases, feeding, and the final shipment by rail of the “Baby Beef” to Chicago).  Catalog #PAc 85-16

2011 Grant
Rosebud County Fair and Rodeo (1926), one home movie (black and white and silent) filmed by Walter B. Dean, Jr., who was a jeweler, optometrist and amateur photographer from Forsyth, MT.  The film contains footage of the 1926 Rosebud County fair rodeo and of the interior of the Dean Jewelry & Drug Store in Forsyth.  Catalog #PAc 92-34

2012 Grant
Montana…Land of the Big Sky (1973), was produced by Robert Henkel and Jim Graff of Sage Advertising in 1973 as part of a series of tourism films.  The 27 ½ minute, color film was produced as a promotional piece and was narrated by Chet Huntley.  The film showcases summer tourist locations in Montana, including helicopter views of Glacier National Park; the underground geological formations in Lewis and Clark Caverns; a tour of the Little Big Horn Battlefield including a reenactment of the battle; trail riding on high-country trails; camping, fishing, boating, water-skiing and other outdoor recreational activities; historic Virginia City; Yellowstone National Park; and local rodeos.  Catalog #PAc 2011-51

MHS Photograph Archives, Catalog #PAc 2001-51
Front and back cover of brochure advertising the film
titled Escape to Montana's Glacier Park. Film sponsored
 by the Montana State Advertsing Dept. and Glacier Park, Inc.

2013 Grant
Escape to Montana’s Glacier Park (1973) was a state-sponsored travelogue; also produced by Sage Advertising and narrated by Chet Huntley.  This 27 ½ minute, color film shows the scenic magnificence of Glacier National Park including Lake McDonald, fields of wildflowers, cascading waterfalls, and the famed Going-to-the-Sun road.  The film also includes footage of fisherman fishing in the Park’s pristine glacial lakes, hikers on the many trails, and the well-known and loved red buses that take tourists throughout the Park.  Catalog #PAc 2011-51

The process of preserving films is expensive and time-consuming and only a few film laboratories in the country specialize in the preservation of historical films.  The Research Center’s film preservation work was done by Colorlab, a motion picture film laboratory in Rockville, Maryland.  Without the grant funds provided by NFPF, we could not have copied these historical films to meet today’s preservation standards.  The costs of preserving our films varied from $944 for the preservation and duplication of one 5 minute, black and white silent film to $8,267.30 to preserve and duplicate one 27 ½ minute, color film with sound.  These costs differ so widely because they are determined by the length of the film, its condition, format (black and white or color) and whether it is a silent film or has a soundtrack.  Color films are more challenging and expensive to copy because the color film often fades and then must be digitally restored.

If you are curious to see any of the films described above, DVD copies of these historic films are available for viewing in the Research Center’s reference room thanks to grant funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF).

• Read more about the National Film Preservation Foundation:
• Read more about orphan films at: