Film conservators at the Harvard Film Archive (HFA) and Weissman Preservation Center recently completed a massive effort to slow or stop damage to thousands of hours of film – including hundreds of hours of one-of-a-kind out-takes – that capture virtually every important painter, sculptor, musician, film director, architect or choreographer working in the United States during the late 20th century.

Part of the Michael Blackwood Collection, the films were presented to the library several years ago, but didn’t begin arriving at the HFA until last year. It quickly became clear, however, that as much as two-thirds of the collection was deteriorating due to age, poor storage conditions, or had suffered damage of one sort or another, and was in danger or being lost forever.

“The value of this collection lies in the intimate, backstage perspective it offers on the creative life of some of the most important artistic figures of the 20th century,” said HFA Director Haden Guest. “Understanding the importance of this material, we had staff within hours working to protect the films and ensure they were stored in conditions that would halt any further deterioration.”