By Dennis Doros, Co-owner of Milestone and President of AMIA
My first trip to the Association of Moving Image Archivists was in Bethesda, Maryland in 1997. My panel on the collegial work between archives and distributors did not go very well — one of the archivists suggested that in 20 years, the only place that anyone could go see silent films would be in an archive. It was a bad prediction (as it turns out) and it reinforced my suspicions that many archivists were dead set against cooperating on restorations that would see commercial release.
But I met a new friend there who convinced me to come back and try again. The next year’s conference in Miami changed my life forever and set me on a course I never expected. I found not only colleagues in the archival world... but a family as well. (And now, I'm proud to say that my own family, Amy and our son Adam, are also members!)
I served three terms on the Board of Directors and after a hiatus, I am now back— this time serving as President of AMIA. Below is a photo of this year's board, a collection of amazing people that I’m proud and grateful to call friends. They work tirelessly to better our field and help our members.
Casey Davis Kaufman, Lauren Sorenson, me, Andrea Leigh, Teague Schneiter, Yvonne Ng, John Polito, Jayson Wall, Melissa Dollman
In its 28 years of existence, the organization has helped abolish the boundaries between commercial and non-commercial, distributors and archivists, labs and archives, collectors and copyright holders, academics and studios. We have grown from our early days of sitting around a table to nearly a thousand members from 29 countries. Our conference takes up three floors of hotel space with panels, workshops, exhibition spaces, roundtables, screenings and much more! We offer scholarships, internships, and travel grants to all those interested in the preservation of moving images.
This year, the Board decided to produce a song to welcome the newcomers to AMIA. It was intended to be a silly song — to show that the board was willing to put its best (or worst) foot forward to make people feel at home. However, we did not count on the talents of Audio Mechanics' John Polito. The song was both splendidly retro and funny and his audio talents made us sound, well, good! I make, shall we say, a surprising contribution. “We are AMIA” was a hit at this year’s AMIA conference, and we want to share it with our Milestone friends!
I want, however, to say that AMIA is just not all song and dance. It is four days of spectacular continuing education, networking, and problem-solving. So many restorations have come from colleagues meeting other colleagues at the conference, that a festival featuring all those restored moving images would take years.
AMIA is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and your donation can help to bring students and unsubsidized archivists to the conference from around the world. A gift to the AMIA travel fund is like the proverbial story of teaching a man to fish — you are not restoring a specific film, but you are helping to teach archivists who will go out and preserve and restore hundreds of films around the world.
To find out how you can donate, here's the link!
Way back in May 2012 I wrote and posted a blog on this website entitled “Pay Up!” In that essay I argued that people should get paid for working. What a concept, huh? Revolutionary.
In that blog, I was reacting to an article that had just appeared in the New York Times about the phenomenon of unpaid internships. But then, for a while things seemed to be improving. In June 2013 a Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that Fox Searchlight had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws by not paying production interns working on Black Swan. And for a few years, young people getting out of college (often with huge student loan debt) were actually earning some money at their first film industry jobs.
Of course, here at Milestone, we have continued our practice of paying interns. In fact, when I became an active supporter of Bernie Sanders, we began paying all college students and grads $15 an hour and our high school assistants $13 an hour.
So Dennis and I are truly dismayed to learn that many production companies, theaters, museums, and fellow film distributors have gone back to the old practice of allowing well-educated, hard-working young people to work for free.
In August, as our two wonderful summer interns Austin and Malu were preparing to leave and were looking for new internships or employment, we heard from them about how hard it is to find any that pays. Honestly, we were appalled to hear about companies and institutions that pay a $10 or $25 per day — or absolutely nothing at all.
As a former labor historian, I also want to take a moment to address an argument I sometimes hear — that unpaid internships are essentially an extension of the age-old apprenticeship model (and I am definitely not referring to a former television show!). So here is the thing: “the system of apprenticeship first developed in the later Middle Ages and came to be supervised by craft guilds and town governments. A master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labour in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft.”
Interns in 2018 have to house, feed, clothe, and transport themselves and they carry enormous debt burdens. The average loan debt of a student graduating in New York State in 2017 was more than $30,000. You can read more here.
Back in 2012 I wrote that Dennis and I were the only full-time permanent staff at Milestone and that we worked in the basement of our house, cleaned the cat boxes, packed orders, and did all the production, bookkeeping, and shipping. We still do. And we are making the exact same salary we were earning when I wrote that 2012 blog — that is, when our cash flow allows us to take pay checks.
FYI, we earn a little more than double what our interns do (and that is only if you presume that we work only 40 hours a week. We don’t). And it is interesting to note that the Economic Policy Institute reported this year that the average CEO pay is 271 times that of the typical American worker.
I understand that in addition to making hard choices that keep our overhead low (literally — tall interns need to duck in our subterranean office), Dennis and I are also lucky to be able to decide to pay our interns fairly. For one thing, we only hire interns for short-term assignments, and then only when we can afford to. For another, in our early years, we benefited from family financial help.
But think about this: the endowment of the New York’s Museum of Modern Art is almost half a billion dollars. And in the current listings on the New York Foundation for the Arts jobs page, MoMA’s PS1 is advertising an unpaid Live Programming Internship. Really.
Recently, Bernie Sanders introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act (or the “Stop BEZOS” Act) — legislation aimed at taxing companies whose 500+ employees earn low wages and receive federal benefits like food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid. Bernie is trying to get us to think about, talk about, and change current corporate practices that are making our country increasingly unequal in income and wealth. As he has said, “A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little.”
Now I cannot change the Gini coefficient (a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation's residents, and is the most commonly used measurement of inequality) of the USA.
Neither can you. But we may be able to do something — and we must try.
I’m trying by paying my interns and writing this blog. Maybe you can try something too! This world isn’t going to get fairer or kinder or more just unless we all try to do whatever we can. Think about it...
And finally, remember that it isn’t a fairy tale that once upon a time working people joined forces to try to improve pay and working conditions and to make the world more equitable and peaceful.
Yours in solidarity,
And here is a positive postscript! Thanks to the efforts of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Amazon has announced that the company is raising its minimum wage to $15 for all US employees, including full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal workers! You can read more here!
Milestone summer interns Luyao Ma and Austin Renna
Having just graduated college and completed internships at The Criterion Collection, Janus Films, and The New Jersey Film Festival, I didn’t know what my next move was within the film industry. I learned a great deal at all three internships: from how to run a small-scale film festival, to seeing first-hand how a film becomes a finished product on DVD, to how to prepare for a theatrical re-release of a cult classic, but I didn’t quite know where I should head to next. I was fortunate enough to hear about Milestone Film & Video through some former colleagues and to my surprise they had a large catalog of incredible and unique films. I was disappointed in myself for never having heard of them before so I reached out to the company to see what opportunities were available and what I could do to help them out. I knew I wanted to do something different than my previous internships and different is exactly what I got.
As my internship here at Milestone comes to a close, I want to express my gratitude towards Amy & Dennis for bringing me on board and letting me work on some very exciting projects. The most intriguing thing I got to work on over the summer was rewording and restructuring the intertitles for a 1915 Italian silent film called Filibus. The film was recently restored under the supervision of Annike Kross at the EYE Filmmuseum in 2K from a preserved 35mm print that meticulously matched the original tinting and toning of the 1916 print from the Desmet Collection.
I also assisted in the research and writing of the press kit for the film. With that there was a lot of time spent translating a variety of documents from Italian and Spanish into English. The reason being was a lot of the details about Corona Films, the company that produced the film, and Mario Roncoroni, the film’s director, was only available in those two languages. With the help of some Italian books, and our friend Eduardo Sastre Gómez in Spain, I was able to add a wealth of information to the press kit about these two subjects.
Back to the main task; the problem with the intertitles in the current restoration was that they originally came from a Dutch print of the film that was distributed in 1916. The Dutch intertitles were then translated to English sometime in the 1980s. The issue with that translation was that it was a very literal, one that didn’t account for the nuances and complexities of the English language. The translation was also littered with several grammatical and spelling errors and very awkward sentence structuring. All of this is what led me to tackle the revision of the intertitles for the new version of the film that is coming soon.
In preparation for the project, I became acquainted with the style and flavor of the language of 1910s detective fiction. Dennis entrusted me with a nice copy of An Arsène Lupin Omnibus and I got to work reading a few chapters. If you don’t know, Arsène Lupin was a gentleman thief and master of disguise who was charismatic, charming, and above all, cunning. It’s fair to say that Filibus would’ve been a worthy rival to Lupin, as they both share the same sly characteristics. Being immersed in these stories really did help me figure out what exact language I should be using when writing the intertitles. One specific example came early on in the film. There’s part of an intertitle that says, “Detective Hardy requests all who have any indication or information to report at the office of notary Desmond.” When rewriting this specific intertitle, we decided to change “notary” to “magistrate” because it was a word commonly used in the crime stories of Arsène Lupin, and we believed it fit the tone of the film better.
Another thing that helped prepare me for the task ahead was my studies and practice of poetry at Rutgers University. I was always very interested in what words sounded best next to each other and how a specific combination of words could make a person feel a certain way. I’ve written a lot of poems about films I’ve seen, people I’ve met, and memories that I want to keep safe. While I haven’t written a standard poem in a long time, I’ve transitioned now into writing fictionalized diary entries from the point of view of two different characters. I’m still waiting to see what shape this project will take, but it’s helped me a lot with just expressing very intimate and personal ideas in a removed sort of way. Above all, what interests me most about poetry is how words and symbols come together to accumulate meaning. That’s the point of view I took with revising the intertitles as well. To me, it was clear we had to get the right combination of words to make the meaning really shine through.
When the time came for me to start on this project, I was fortunate enough to be working off of an early draft that Amy & Dennis had already wrote. This provided me with a nice foundation to not only double-check their work, but to also offer my own spin and suggestions on things. It’s funny working on a project like this with multiple people because everyone has their own idea and unique vision of how sentences and words should be structured. It definitely allowed for some great debates and deliberations at Milestone HQ; we even had Amy & Dennis’ son Adam, our other interns Malu and Zach, and Rodney Sauer (Director of The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra), weigh in on certain phrasings and ideas. It was a great big party in some regards, even if the debate got pretty heated at times
Here are a few examples of what the intertitles originally looked like and what we decided to change them to:
This intertitle comes at a point in the film where Detective Kutt-Hendy is trying to frame Filibus for a crime with a tiny spy camera. Filibus is much too cunning for this, so she decides to use Kutt-Hendy’s trap to frame him for the same crime. The original intertitle doesn’t really do justice to the meaning of what’s actually happening in the film. It’s quite melodramatic and the word “fight” is kind of a leap from what Filibus is actually doing. We decided to change this intertitle to:
“I shall ensnare him with his own device!” This more accurately reflects what Filibus is doing and the verb “ensnare” makes much more sense than the word “fight” in this scenario.
Here’s another example:
This intertitle comes after the point where Kutt-Hendy finds that a mysterious object, with handprints on it, has been planted on him when the lights go out at a party. As you can tell, the main idea of the intertitle is there, but it’s shrouded in awkward phrasing and punctuation. We decided to change this intertitle to: “There is an excellent magician among us. Who is it? Please don’t feel insulted, but I would like to collect the handprints of everyone present.” With this we wanted to expand the main idea of the intertitle and make it more coherent. We decided “conjurer” wasn’t the right tone for this situation so we deliberated between “magician” and “pickpocket” before finally settling on the former. We also took out the ellipses and made the language much more straightforward and clear.
There’s definitely a fine line you have to walk when revising and editing intertitles. You want to make sure you’re not straying so far from the main idea of what it was originally trying to say. It’s important to note the style, tone, and nature of films released of that time period, and in that specific country, and honor the history and tradition that they set for themselves.
I can’t say I’ve ever really worked on a project like this before, but the experience felt similar to the process of editing a poem or piece of writing. For me, when writing a poem or diary entry, every word and every punctuation mark matters. If you were to ask any of my friends, they’d tell you that sometimes it takes me an hour or so just to write a short diary entry. This is because I’m always so concerned with the words and punctuation I’m using. I always want to be proud of the writing that I put out into the world. When I was editing these intertitles, I felt the same way. I knew there would be new audiences coming to see this film so I felt it was my duty to make sure everyone on the team was satisfied with the way the intertitles were worded and written. I believe it’s important to care about the work you do and the words you choose on a daily basis; this project felt like an extension of that very belief. It was a great honor and privilege to work on Filibus and it’s exciting that audiences will be able to see these revised intertitles, complete with a new text designed by Allen Perkins, and be totally immersed in the world of Filibus.
I’d heard about Lotte Reiniger and seen stills and clips from her films, but I didn’t know the whole story of this fantastic animation pioneer.
So when I found out that this talented creator came from Berlin, the city I’ve lived in since 2005, I knew I had to suggest her for the Dead Ladies Show. The Dead Ladies Show tells the stories of amazing women from history live on stage, and I produce a monthly podcast from the events. Lotte’s famous film The Adventures of Prince Achmed debuted at the Volksbuhne, just a few blocks up the road from where I stood on stage telling her story. Afterwards, Rike Reiniger — a playwright and theatre director (who also works with puppets!), and a relative of Lotte’s through marriage — came up to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my talk. It was truly a rewarding moment.
I chose to tell Lotte’s story in the form of a fairy tale in five acts. I think she would have approved. But as I said in my presentation, fairy tales, especially those set in Germany, tend to be a little bit more Grimm than Disney.
Lotte’s painstakingly crafted silhouette films — some 80 in all — stemmed from her precocious talent, or what she called “an uncanny ability” for paper cutting. And while her basic tools were minimal, they led to the creation of the earliest surviving full-length animated feature film (Prince Achmed in 1926) and the animation desk and multi-plane camera that made the film’s intricate details and layered vivid depths possible, along with previously unseen special effects courtesy of wax and sand.
Making magic out of not much was a skill that followed Lotte throughout her days, especially before and after the war as she and her husband Carl fled from Germany around Europe to the UK and back in a flight from the era’s horrors. One of the most touching things I saw in my research was a British newspaper article talking about how Lotte created puppets from discarded laundry soap boxes. She scavenged cardboard and paper where she could — anything to continue her art.
And while she was little known for decades, it seems there in fact are many, many fans and friends dedicated to bringing Lotte and her work out of the shadows.
Lotte’s influence can be seen in the work of notable contemporary animation leaders including Michel Ocelot and Rebecca Sugar, and even a scene from Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows Part 1 has Lotte’s fingerprints on it. And, there’s this year’s Lotte that Silhouette Girl, a 10-minute short film by Elizabeth Beecherl (director and animator) and Carla Patullo (director and composer) narrated by Lotte herself via a 1976 interview; it uses shadow puppets and a multi-plane camera based on Lotte’s own designs, and was named best short film at the American Documentary Film Festival.I first heard of Lotte Reiniger and Prince Achmed from Milestone Films, via Amy, who I met and interviewed at the Berlinale a decade ago, in the course of writing a story on The Exiles for NPR. Amy and Dennis’s passion for film, along with their DVD of Prince Achmed (which includes a documentary and other extras) got me started on my Lotte learning curve, a trajectory that was quickly accelerated by Whitney Grace’s incredibly in-depth 2017 book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation. Find Grace’s book if you want to read more. But of course the very best place to begin is by watching Lotte’s films.
Linda Ehrlich with Milestone designer and former intern, Lauren Caddick
You have to love a film to watch it more than 10 times while writing and recording a full-length commentary. Luckily that’s the case for me with Maborosi.
I’ve seen most of Kore-eda’s films, and they all fascinate me, to varying degrees. But Maborosi never loses its place as the top. Maborosi is the story of a young Japanese woman from the working-class, and her subtle process of facing traumas. This luminous film was shot on location, using only available light and some low-key lighting.
When Amy and Dennis asked me to record a full-length commentary, my first reaction was: “I won’t have enough to say.” But it turns out that I did! Of course I’m hoping everyone will watch the film for the first time WITHOUT the commentary (that’s for a subsequent viewing).
My goal, as I state at the beginning of the commentary, is to “accompany” the film with my words. The film is in the foreground; my words are an unobtrusive background. In fact, at first recording, I left some extended moments of silence in the commentary where I wanted viewers to focus on certain dramatic sequences or narrative ellipses. Afterwards I realized I had left out some information that was crucial. Milestone kindly allowed me to do a second short recording of about 15 minutes which we “glued” into the original commentary with the help of the excellent recording technician.
I admire people who can just “kibitz” (chat) as an offscreen commentary, but that’s not my style. At times I think I got the timing just right to match word with image. The film is based on a story by Japanese writer Miyamoto Teru entitled Maborosi no hikari (Illusory Light). In comparison to the film, the short story offers more insights into the protagonist’s world, and more dialogue stemming from that world. I drew the story into the film, and also I pointed out many details about everyday Japanese life, with invaluable details added by my Japanese colleague, Yuki Togawa (now Gergotz).
When I saw the new print (after doing the recording), I was amazed how much brighter it is than the original one I had been using as my source. I’m so glad to hear that Kore-eda-kantoku (director) approved this more-legible print. Alas, I then realized I had misidentified one scene! But all in all, I’m proud of my work and hope it adds to the viewing pleasure of a second viewing.