"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan


Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

A Day in the Life of a Film Archivist

For my drive to San Francisco on Tuesday April 13, 2010, I arranged for a passenger, a dog, and stuff, to ride along. I would get 70 bucks for that. It was through Craigslist. I was to pick up all three at 9:00am at 74th and Foster. In San Francisco I would be showing films at the Red Vic, Oddball Films, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. At the Red Vic it would be Terrorism Light and Dark and I Know Why You’re Afraid. At Oddball it would be Vroom Vroom: Automobiles in the 20th Century and Outer Space is the Place. At YBCA it would be So, You Wanna Fight!

I would be driving my 1981 Chevy C-10 Pickup pictured below.

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First I had to pick up the main reel of the boxing film program at Marylhurst University, where my film archive is housed, and also get cash for the trip. I’d loaned what I had put aside for travel money to a friend in Seattle who needed it for groceries. I was supposed to get it back before I left. That didn’t happen. I figured he needed it more than I did. My living a life without any credit cards makes things interesting when I am flat broke.

I got up at six and breakfast of coffee, raisin toast, and the Oregonian. I did the New York Times crossword puzzle. At 7:30 I was at Marylhurst. I lingered there until 8:00. That is when the campus Post Office opens. I walked over and bought a $120 money order with my debit card. With cash from the Craigslist passenger that should get us to SF. The clerk, who was new on the job, put it through as credit. It was approved. The clerk then saw that a postal money order can not be paid for with a credit card. She then put it through as a debit. That was approved. She then had to make three phone calls to find out how to void the first charge. All of that took most of half and hour. Now I just needed to cash the MO and buy gas. I drove to Oregon city and parked downtown. I then asked where the post office was. The first person told me it was two or three blocks north. I walked there. I then asked a woman. She told me that there was no Post Office in downtown Oregon City, but there was one up the hill and another one in Gladstone. I picked Gladstone, as it was off the freeway.

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It turned out the PO was quite a ways off the freeway. I had to ask directions to get there. Only one person was in front of me. When I presented the MO to the clerk she told me they didn’t have any cash, as it was too early in the morning. It was now 9:00. Ah, such is the world of the credit and debit card. I probably could have waited till noon without anyone bringing in cash for their stamps and things.

Figuring my passenger and the dog would be getting antsy I drove to 74th and Foster. I could not find the address. I remembered there was a PO at 52th and Foster. When I walked in there were thirteen people in line. Most of them seemed to have special needs that seemed to stupify the clerks. It finally came to my turn. I left with the cash.

Not having a cell phone is becoming difficult thing to do. Driving up Foster I stopped at a pay phone. It was broken. I stopped at three more. The last one worked. I called my passenger, whose name was Alyse, and said I’d be directly there. She said she was glad I’d called and that she had not been concerned. She described the house to make sure I’d find it.

Sure enough, the house was where it should have been. How I’d missed it was the mystery. Alyse introduced me to her mother and a friend. The friend had the dog on a leash. The dog’s name was Chloe. The stuff filled up the truck. It included several boxes of books and two bicycles. How anyone could ride two bikes at once was a puzzler, but I loaded them in without comment.

Alyse was 19 years old. I rarely talk to teenagers. It was interesting to hear her talk about politics and the environment with such youthful passion. Her mom had warned me that Chloe might whine all the way to San Francisco. There was a kennel in the back with the bicycles if that turned out to be true. It didn’t. Chloe curled up on the seat between us and seemed to enjoy the ride.

It was a non-eventful drive until we got to the toll plaza before the Bay Bridge on I80. I was in a middle lane. Nearing the toll booth I saw that the three right in front of me were closed for repairs. I moved to my left. At the booth I realized it was a Fastrak lane only. I moved back to my right and stopped tight up against a closed booth. To my right were work trucks and flares. Past that were two open booths with long lines of cars waiting. Looking back made me realize how crummy visibility was at night with a canopy on the truck and a lot stuff inside. I gingerly backed up. I then drove through the parked work trucks. Alyse said “There are flares.” I said “I’ll try to miss them.”

I managed not to hit a flare and found myself at a right angle to the slowly moving cars. I now had to wait for the kindness of one of them to stop and let me in. That took a while. The general attitude of most was that I had done something stupid and needed to punished. Finally a good samaritan stopped to let us in.

Alyse was expected at the Motel 6 in downtown SF. She phoned them to get directions. It was easy to find. I drove into the parking garage and stopped next to the elevator. I used a rolling hanger cart to get her stuff, plus the bicycles, to her upper floor room. I used the wifi there to get directions to where I would be staying in Oakland. Back at my truck I noticed my rear license plate was loose. It was leaning against the trailer hitch. Oh man, California roads! That plate had never come loose in thirty years. Luckily it had not bounced completely free. It did have a spot about the size of a quarter where the paint was gone down to the metal. That was from rubbing against the trailer hitch. I found nuts and bolts in my tool box and got it back attached.

The mapquest directions got me to the house in Oakland where I would be staying. It belonged to Bill Crawford’s sister Margie. Bill had booked my show at the Red Vic. Margie lived with her husband Gavin and their two boys. It was almost midnight when I arrived. Margie fixed me a sandwich in the kitchen. I had it with a glass of red wine. Both tasted good. My bed was the sofa in the living room. I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep.

The next morning I awoke to the sounds of the kids having breakfast. The older of the two came in when he noticed I was awake. He looked to be about eight years old. He wanted to know if I liked to play chess. I told him it had been a while.

Margie took the boys to school and I drove into the city. I was to be at the Red Vic at two to set up the projector for the show that night. This time I didn’t get hung up at the toll plaza. My first destination was the Starbucks I had walked to the last time I’d stayed at Oddball. Considering I have only eaten food from a MacDonalds twice in my life, it amuses some of my friends that I defend Starbucks. Well, I always thought MacDonalds was all about structured mediocrity. I was living in Seattle when Starbucks started out. They were trying to put out an excellent product in a sea of Folgers mediocrity. I didn’t have much trouble finding it. After coffee and a bagel I walked to Oddball. I hadn’t heard from Stephen for over a week and wanted to check to see if everything was set for my shows on Friday and Saturday. He was in his office talking with someone when I got there. He had just gotten back from the film archive meeting in New York. I used the computer at the front to check emails. From one of the interns I got directions to Haight Street. I was told to drive west 17th and then right on Divisidero. The only problem with that was you can’t hit Divisidero from 17th without first going north on Castro. At Castro streetcar construction kept me from going straight through. By a circuitous route I got to the other side of Castro but couldn’t find 17th Luckily it was early and I had plenty of time to be lost before getting to the Red Vic. Before long, unbeknownst to my self, I was in the middle of Twin Peaks.

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To be continued

3 responses to “A Day in the Life of a Film Archivist”

  1. Robin Glover says:

    Nice piece Dennis! Can’t wait for the sequel.

  2. Sarah S says:

    this is my first visit and just wanted to stop by and say Hi Everyone!

  3. news says:

    Oh man. This site is awesome! How do you make it look like this !

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