I am a film archivist and my primary work is with films, not people. I started collecting films, in the days before video, because I loved history and wanted to see it. We can look at the 20th Century in a way not possible for any earlier time. I create film programs on themes and have shown them around the world. Most people who see my films appreciate them for individual, if not personal, reasons. For some people, an old film can be a much more personal thing. I hope everyone has read Mark Edward Hueck’s post about reuniting an orphan with his long dead mother.
Last week Christina Duane from Southern Oregon, along with three youngsters, came to my office at Marylhurst University. I showed them a 1940 film of her grandfather Ronnie Mansfield. He had been a popular singer in the thirties and forties, appearing with the George Olsen Band, on his own radio show and was also a regular on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. She had known him until his death when she was an adolescent. Of course her children and grand children had only known him through still photographs and family stories. She had found an excerpt of the film on line and had contacted me about it. I had transferred the film with her grandfather in it for a project . The grandfather, then a young man, was one of the vocal trio who appears at the beginning of the opening film in the youtube post.
Also in the clip is a good shot of the drummer. He lives in New York. He had introduced himself to the band leader Vince Giordano. Last year when I showed the film to Vince, he told me that the drummer had come to one of his gigs and had told him about being in the film when he had been twenty years old. I hope to show the film to the drummer when I will be in New York in the Spring.
There are many reasons to preserve films. Most reasons are more abstract than personal. It is good to remember that everyone preserved in motion pictures was a real person with a real life, many of them having families, and not just fans, who loved them.