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Happy 30th Birthday, National Film Registry

Today we announced the 2018 National Film Registry selections! Read the following guest post by Stephen Leggett, program coordinator for the National Film Preservation Board, to find out how the registry helps to ensure the survival of our cinematic heritage. Scroll to the bottom to see video clips of this year’s selections.

From an unexpected beginning, the National Film Registry has established itself as an important record of American cultural creativity, a modern-day Noah’s Ark of dazzling artistic icons. The registry, a Library of Congress program, this year marks its 30th anniversary—three decades of ensuring the survival and accessibility of America’s cinematic heritage.

Amid a national debate over the colorization of black-and-white films, Congress passed the National Film Preservation Act in 1988, recognizing motion pictures as a “significant American art form deserving of protection.”

The act created in the Library a 13-member National Film Preservation Board comprised of industry groups, artist guilds, film historians and archival organizations. It mandated selection by the Librarian of Congress, after consulting with the board, of up to 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” American films each year to a National Film Registry.

Films are chosen in a three-step process: public nominations, discussion by the board and final selection by the Librarian of Congress after consulting with Library experts. Public nominations have increased over time (last year, over 5,200 individual titles were proposed) and often feature creative campaigns: One write-in effort used a full-court press by Indiana schoolchildren in support of “Hoosiers”—teamwork of which Gene Hackman would approve.

To narrow the field, the board holds spirited, candid discussions on the merits of titles and advocates forcefully for different types of films (Hollywood classics, silent films, documentaries, home movies, experimental works).

Once a film is chosen, the Library ensures the film either has already been preserved or will be. Registry titles are saved by a conservation honor roll: film studios, preservation organizations and archives, including the Library’s Packard Campus. Almost all are now available in some format, be it DVDs, streaming, screenings or a mélange of cable channels.

Today, the board contains 44 members/alternates, and the registry numbers 750 titles. Neither a compilation of the best or most-popular films, the registry instead represents works the librarian and board deem significant and having stood the test of time. The registry’s incredible variety showcases the many creative paths American cinema has taken since its emergence in the early 1890s.

Watch Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden introduce the 2018 registry and see clips of the films below. Be on the lookout for the January/February issue of the Library of Congress Magazine which will be all about film.

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