The “Missing Movies” Manifesto

Movie audiences are being told that streaming has made the entire history of cinema available for a simple subscription fee — or at least a couple of dozen subscription fees.

This is not true.

As an ad hoc group of film lovers and professionals, we have come together to create Missing Movies to empower filmmakers, distributors, archivists, and others to locate lost materials, clear rights, and advocate for policies and laws to make the full range of our cinema history available to all.

There is an immediate need to address this issue. The truth is that movies are simply not as available today as they were during the heyday of VHS when some brick-and-mortar video stores carried tens of thousands of titles. Now, with a few giant companies controlling the most popular streaming services and trying to outdo one another with original content, many older movies are being left behind.

Thousands of movies are either completely lost or are deemed too small to warrant the expense, and thus are completely unavailable. This is especially true of work created by women and people of color. As a result, we end up with a skewed history of filmmaking and crucial gaps in our cultural knowledge and legacy.

Missing Movies will work to demystify and help decipher the economic, legal, and practical hurdles that filmmakers face when they want to make their older works available. Those challenges include:

●       researching contractual rights that may have been agreed to decades ago (sometimes with companies that no longer exist),

●       deciphering underlying rights,

●       locating master film materials (which may have originally been stored in labs that have gone out of business),

●       creating high-def digital transfers.

In addition, all filmmakers need to make sure that their work is properly archived and preserved for the future.

Missing Movies’ long-term goal is to preserve a critical and beloved art form — one that is vitally important to the history of our time. To that end, we plan to advocate for revisions in copyright law and for changes in some industry standards for working with filmmakers.

We seek to formally create a non-profit organization that can facilitate and fund these efforts. To start, Missing Movies will focus on American independent films — including features, documentaries, shorts, and experimental films — but we hope to broaden our scope as work progresses.

Missing Movies looks forward to working with like-minded organizations, including specialty streamers, archives, festivals, distributors, film labs, trade unions, foundations, and a wide range of filmmakers, to find effective solutions to this critical, often-ignored problem.

The immediate goals of Missing Movies are to:

●       Bring this issue to the attention of the public, filmmakers, and other stakeholders.

●       Identify films that fall into this category.

●       Create a guide to help filmmakers research individual films.

●       Create a set of FAQs to respond to common problems.

●       Collect case studies of films that have recently successfully dealt with these issues.

●       Create a website to publish the above information and to interact with filmmakers, cinephiles and the press.

Working Group

Mary Harron
Shola Lynch
Nancy Savoca
Ira Deutchman

Richard Guay
Amy Heller
Dennis Doros
Sue Bodine

Advisory Group (in formation)