"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.

Seattle Times 2004

Movies The Seattle Times  3/19/2004
Festival takes rare peek into animation history

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

Perhaps the year’s most unusual film festival begins tonight at the Little Theatre, as film archivist Dennis Nyback will present “The Dennis Nyback Forbidden Animation Festival: Beyond Spike and Mike.” For six nights, Nyback will present themed packages of short films from his vast collection of rarities, including “Strange and Vicious War Cartoons,” “Offensive Exploitation Animation,” “Cartoons Too Violent for Children” and others.

Many of these long-repressed films may raise an eyebrow or two, and that’s fine with Nyback. “I don’t have a big agenda, but I do want people to get a better grasp of history,” said Nyback on the phone from Portland, where he’s hosting another festival. Many of the films he’ll screen here are propaganda films, often from Hollywood, expressing sentiments that might well be considered offensive today.

“I want people to recognize propaganda,” said Nyback. “I think people see propaganda every day, and because it’s American, they don’t recognize it as such. It’s easier to see things from the past as propaganda. (These films) are our history that I think we’re being kept from seeing.”

Nyback, a Northwest native who travels the world presenting his films, got his start in Seattle. In 1979, he bought the Rosebud Movie Palace, a revival theater in Pioneer Square. “I wanted to show films the way they were shown originally,” he said. “So if I had a 1937 film, for example, I would want to show a newsreel from 1937, and a short subject or a cartoon. I was going broke renting these things.

Festival preview

“The Dennis Nyback Forbidden Animation Festival: Beyond Spike and Mike,” 8 p.m. today-Thursday, Little Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle; $7.50, $5 for Northwest Film Forum members (206-675-2055).

“Then I was told that I could buy those short films, cheaper than I could rent them. Then, when I got more films, I could make complete programs of short films. That’s what I really liked to do.” Nyback estimates that he now has about 6,000 films in his collection, mostly in the smaller 16mm format. These days, he does much of his buying on eBay, but remembers finding films through the publication Big Reel, or from “the dusty corners of some secondhand store.”

Among the films to be shown is the rare 1918 short “The Sinking of the Lusitania,” directed by cartoonist Winsor McCay (best known for the comic strip “Little Nemo,” which later became a film). “It’s very, very early animation that is incredibly beautiful,” said Nyback, who estimates that the film contains around 40,000 drawings.

He’ll also devote an evening to “The Dark Side of Dr. Seuss”  World War II propaganda films written by Theodore Geisel, better known as the author of “The Cat in the Hat” and other children’s classics. “Dr. Seuss was very effective in terms of getting his material read. He knew what he was doing. And like many men of his era, he got into the war effort. He didn’t draw the films, but he wrote the stories.”

Nyback, who’ll be present at all screenings during the animation festival, is intrigued by a story behind Seuss’ war films: studies that showed that soldiers didn’t react well to standard training films, but really paid attention to cartoons. “I think this is one reason why animation is used so much in advertising. There’s something almost primal  it might go back to cavemen doing art on the walls. Line drawings in art connect with people’s brains, in a way that pictures don’t.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.