Films take SF back in time
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Time-traveling SF State professionals gathered last month for a journey through the streets of San Francisco's past.

The group went to City Light Books and stood side-by-side with writer Allen Ginsburg promoting his work "Howl and Other Poems." They sat with Willie Mays, feeling empathy and disbelief at the Say Hey Kid's struggles to find housing in San Francisco.

They attended the "Dirty Harry" premier. They went to a Devo concert. They ran with fleeing citizens, as out-of-control wildfires chased them through the Oakland Hills.

This one-of-a-kind time-traveling experience was brought to them via a 20-minute video made by the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, part of the J. Paul Leonard Library's Department of Special Collections.

The video showcase, held early last month, is part of an ongoing effort to generate awareness about the archive, which was created when broadcast news institutions around the Bay began throwing out old film footage.

Alex Cherian, resident film archivist, said SF State considered the footage worth saving. The archives, mostly outtakes from KQED, KPIX, KTVU, and the National Academy of Television, span the last 60 years.

"There is this strange belief that someone, somewhere, is saving this stuff," said Cherian of the archival footage. "But that's a myth."

Cherian added that recent history gets ignored. "Most people wouldn't think about archiving something from 1993, except us," Cherian said. "We are offering at least one perspective on how moving film can connect us to our past."

Virginia Gazzinelli, a senior BECA major, has been working closely with Cherian since the semester began. Her class, BECA 562: Documentary Production, is making a documentary about SF State's 1968 student strike.

She turned to the archive, which has at least five hours of footage from the strike, looking for insight on campus life during the time.

"It's riots, and students protesting and singing songs, and police and violence and students bleeding from the face," she said.

Gazzinelli is in the process of getting permission to use the footage from the individual TV stations, who still possess the copyright.

"Usually they sell it. Thirty seconds is worth $60 and one minute is $1,000, but because we are a group of students with no budget, we're working with the stations to use the footage for free," she said.

Ben Lockett, a 22-year-old criminal justice major, had previously never even heard of the archive. After learning about it and the work Cherian does, Lockett began to see possibilities for his class projects.

"If it was a high-profile case [on film], I could utilize it for classes like my juvenile justice and psychology of policing classes," Lockett said.

Tony Nguyen, a graduate of SF State, is currently perusing the archives for clips of Vietnamese-American footage. Nguyen is working on a documentary about how war has shaped the life of the American and Bay Area Vietnamese communities.

"It's been a cool experience," said Nguyen, who managed to locate 10 reels of film related to his project. "I'm not sure who knows how valued the archives are, but you can set up a time with Alex [Cherian] and sit at the computer and search the whole archive with him," said the documentarian.

Jennifer Shea, a professor at SF State's downtown campus attended the screening as part of her ongoing attempt to learn about and understand the university's many resources.

Shea may utilize the archives as one of her classroom teaching tools for future semesters "using footage to demonstrate civic political engagement for my nonprofit, public policy and society course."

Bridget McCracken, director of academic services for SF State's public administration department and co-organizer of the showcase, spoke of the decision to showcase the archives footage at the downtown campus.

Many library professionals have been relocated downtown during the retrofit, McCracken said, and she and others want to do all they can to help them feel at home.

"I think it was a great step in bringing the librarians into the downtown campus community and a fun way for us all to interact," McCracken said in a recent e-mail. "Alex and I definitely want to make it an ongoing event."

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PHOTO
Stephen Morrison | staff photographer
The only film archives that aren't kept in a warehouse in Richmond are these from the 1960's that film archivist Alex Cherian prefers to keep under his watch. When the othersare needed they are delivered within 24 hours to his offi ce in the SFSU Downtown Campus.

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