The Yale Film Study Center on Jan. 16 announced its project “Film50: Fifty Years of Collecting Film at Yale,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of Yale’s 1968 acquisition of its first collection of films.

Formerly known as the John Griggs Collection of Classic Films, the Yale Collection of Classic Films began Yale’s tradition of collecting film. As part of Film50, the Film Study Center — which since 1982 has housed the collection — will host screenings throughout 2018, including a 50th anniversary screening of selections from the Yale Collection of Classic Films in February.

“Film50 is a chance for the Film Study Center to mark the anniversary of the real beginning of the film archive here, and to showcase a wide variety of material from the collection in free screenings throughout the year,” said Brian Meacham, the Film Study Center’s archive and special collections manager.

Meacham noted that the 1968 acquisition, which includes about 200 16mm prints, marked the beginning of Yale’s commitment to collecting films for use in teaching. Today, films in Yale’s collection are used for courses including those in Film and Media Studies. The films are also used in the Film Study Center’s public screening series “Treasures from the Yale Film Archive,” and in several undergraduate and graduate student-programmed film series.

Michael Kerbel, director of the Film Study Center, said the Yale Collection of Classic Films featured mostly American silent films created in the 1890s to the late 1920s. Courses on film were first offered in 1966, and the 1968 acquisition served as an important classroom resource in an early stage of VHS tape use, long before the advent of DVDs.

Even today, with technological capabilities like Blu-ray, 35mm is still the “medium of choice” for film courses at Yale, according to Kerbel.

Kerbel also said that over the past 50 years, Yale’s collection of films has grown in quantity and scope. Today, Yale’s collection includes about 6,000 16mm and 35mm prints and holds American and international films spanning about 120 years.

“We plan to present films representative of the range of material that the University now holds, and demonstrate that from its humble beginnings back in 1968, the film archive here at Yale has now become one of the University’s great collections,” Meacham said.

Meacham added that the Film Study Center looks for films that will “create a well-rounded collection and will be utilized by our public screening program, classroom screenings and researchers” when seeking new acquisitions for the collection.

Film studies professor John MacKay GRD ’88 noted that when he teaches the Film and Media Studies course “Introduction to Film Studies,” he aims to show as many films as possible to his students.

Leana Hirschfeld-Kroen GRD ’20, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Film and Media Studies and Comparative Literature, emphasized that Yale’s film collection allows her to inspect many of the films she studies in their original format.

“Working with these prints has given me a much richer understanding of film history and of what is being lost with the turn to digital,” Hirschfeld-Kroen said.

Hirschfeld-Kroen’s projects with films in Yale’s collections include examining Nazi film reels to find that Kodak opened a German branch operating under a different name during World War II, and learning about using closing credits as bibliographies and fading colors as decade markers.

Kerbel added that he also looks for films in 35mm to allow students to experience films in the format in which they were shot and thus intended to be seen. While nearly all of today’s movie theaters are digital, 35mm projection equipment is housed in the Whitney Humanities Center — the only public venue with such capabilities in New Haven. The Film Study Center has also held screenings to showcase special acquisitions and preservation projects, featuring films such as “Black at Yale: A Film Diary” and “Passages from Finnegans Wake.”

The Film Study Center became part of the Yale University Library on July 1, 2017.

Julia Carabatsos |