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About the Project

Frame enlargement, Robert Decker Collection, Northeast Historic Film.
Original amateur films of the New York World's Fair in 1939-1940 (NWYF), and years preceding World War II (1938-1940), are important primary sources. Describing individual film reels (NYWF) and complete amateur film collections (1938-1940) exposes unknown documents of American life at a time of profound change.
The year 1939 is one of the most important periods in Hollywood filmmaking with release of The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, The City, and many other canonical Hollywood and avant-garde films. Presenting 1938-1940 amateur film collections allows historians, film researchers, and others access to people's films that are personal documents of travel, home, and community.
Media catalogers and collections managers selected the holdings to be described, creating a structure intended to be efficient and helpful to researchers.
  • Reels: All NYWF films are described as individual reels with information on the content including indexing fair buildings and other features.
  • Collections: For the years 1938-1940 large and small film collections are described with biographical and historical notes, subject indexing, and other search and browse tools.
See Cataloging Resources for information on data structure and content standards.
A collaboration of Northeast Historic Film, the Queens Museum of Art, and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.
George Eastman House: filmstudycenter@geh.org
Northeast Historic Film: nhf@oldfilm.org
Queens Museum of Art: info@queensmuseum.org
Visit the project blog, The Big Reveal, where you will find occasional bulletins here.

New York World's Fair, 1939-1940

The New York World's Fair opened on April 30, 1939, in Queens, NY. In the first year it closed at the end of October. The second year ran from May through October 1940. It was in Flushing Meadows, NY, on reclaimed land, which is presently Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Government and corporate exhibitions, as well as many entertainments and services attracted visitors to the Fair. The theme was "Building the World of Tomorrow." With the onset of World War II some countries were absent, while some zones and exhibitors changed. The Fair's theme became "Peace and Freedom."

Amateur Film

The premise of the project is that a reel of amateur film is a historical document. The video surrogates of the amateur film reels streaming on this site present the reels as they were created, with no added edits. The original films, almost all of which are reversal (the film was exposed, processed and then used for projection), are in the custody of three cultural organizations--two museums and a moving image archives.
For more information on the physical properties of amateur film we recommend LittleFilm.org and Filmforever.org.
"The importance of amateur and nontheatrical filmmaking within the discipline of film history is just beginning to be investigated....1938-1940 has long been understood as a time of intense productivity and significance in Hollywood filmmaking, but Hollywood is only a portion of the full picture of film history during the late 1930s. The amateur films from this period can provide a richer understanding of how Americans saw themselves through their own filmmaking practices." Oliver Gaycken, Ph.D., co-founder of the Non-Theatrical Film and Media Special Interest Group, Society for Cinema and Media Studies.


An audiovisual collection can be as small as a single reel or as large as many hundreds of reels. As an example, the Lee Dassler Collection at Northeast Historic Film consists of fifty-five reels of 8 mm. film and one reel of 16 mm. film. The archives maintains this donation as a collection, believing that the contents are best understood with access to the entire collection, to information about the creator, and as much as can be determined about when and why the films were made.
The maintenance of collections is based on the concepts of provenance (documented source of creation and ownership) and respect des fonds (preservation of records in their original order and context).

Using the Films

The purpose of collecting and describing these films is to ensure that they are seen, studied, and used. We provide streaming video to facilitate initial study and to encourage use and enjoyment. On the Content Description tab there is a Rights section.
Each repository has access procedures for obtaining higher quality copies; reuse permission is required. Contact the repository for more information.
George Eastman House
George Eastman House offers digital formats for multi-media application on a case-by-case basis. For information, contact GEH Registrar Daniel Bish (dbish@geh.org, 585-271-3361 x.370).
Queens Museum of Art
Northeast Historic Film
For better quality copies to use in teaching and publications, where the rights are available, the Northeast Historic Film technical services department will deliver digital video with the cost based on existing media and your destination format. Please call 207-469-0924 ext. 108 or write joe@oldfilm.org.
A stock footage/licensing rate sheet for using NHF audiovisual materials in productions is here.

Film Preservation

Motion picture film is fragile, requiring proper care and storage conditions. The National Film Preservation Foundation, affiliated with the Library of Congress's National Film Preservation Board, shares information including Why Preserve Film?
The Film Preservation Guide: The Basics for Archives, Libraries, and Museums is available as a PDF here.
Cold storage and film-to film copying have been front line methods for film preservation. Digital preservation, which has cost and sustainability implications, is on the horizon. Read information from the National Archives regarding digital options for preservation, reproduction, and distribution. The Association of Moving Image Archivists organizes an annual conference and has a listserv with active preservation discussions.

Archival Materials

"Libraries, archives, and cultural institutions hold millions of items that have never been adequately described." CLIR Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives
The three institutions in this project have education and access missions and are custodians of important collections. The public has not been aware of many of these. Amateur film, in particular, may not have been described or copied for access. Because curators, historians and media scholars are now more interested in amateur film, it is becoming more of a priority.
It is important that organizations with an audiovisual preservation mission learn, use, and make known best practices for preservation and access in a time of transition from analog to digital access. The point of our collaboration is to use standards-based description to expose films so as to maintain custodial and research access to information on the physical material and its provenance. This is how we will help ensure preservation and a greater understanding of personal films and their role in communications and culture.