OSU Students Join AFI Film Archiving Effort

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Tue, 02/28/2012 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

A group of students at Oregon State University is contributing to a project that has been heralded by filmmaker Martin Scorsese as “the most complete and accurate” online archive of American films. Twelve University Honors College students are cataloging more than 40 movies from the 1980s this term as part of a special project in the class of OSU film professor Jon Lewis. Their work is part of a larger effort on behalf of the American Film Institute to document every American feature-length film produced from 1893 through 2011. The AFI Catalog Academic Network uses what it believes to be the best and brightest scholars from around the country to provide plot summary and production note information to help flesh out the records of American movies. OSU is one of the only universities participating in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films project that does not have an established film studies program or major. Lewis teaches in the proposed School of Writing Literature and Film at OSU formerly known as the Department of English. “This is really a cool honor ” Lewis says. “And if we do it right it could be something that honors students at OSU might continue to do in future classes.” Lewis was contacted last year by the AFI catalog’s editor Bob Birchard about the project which already has completed listings for films made through 1975. Birchard was aware of Lewis’ work as a nationally known American film scholar and offered OSU students the chance to help document American film history. “Most of the really obvious films from the ’80s like E.T. had already been taken ” Lewis says. “I thought this could be an interesting learning experience for the students a way to introduce them to movies in that era that are overlooked.” Each student was assigned up to four films to catalog. A typical entry includes an exhaustive list of details such as the complete cast and crew a detailed plot description and an examination of the history of the making of the film. The American Film Institute provides a packet including a DVD of the film for the student. Films as diverse as Brian De Palma’s 1981 thriller Blow Out starring John Travolta and Ross McElwee’s 1986 documentary Sherman’s March were assigned to the OSU students some of whom have never taken a film studies class before. “It is one of the reasons I wanted this to be an honors class ” Lewis says. “They are dedicated students who know how to do diligent scholarship and work.”