motion picture preservation lab


To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the creation of the National Archives, staff from around the country submitted contemporary photographs of their workplace and people to show what we look like in 2014 for anyone interested now and in the future. 

You can see more photos of staff at the photo set on Flickr

Images from top:

Mickey Ebert, Education Specialist; and Chris Magee, Archivist; practice “NARA and National Symbols,” a distance learning puppet show for kindergarteners with Hairy History and War Eagle, puppet  at the Interactive Distance Learning Lab at the National Archives at Kansas City. Photographer: Jessica Hopkins. Source: US National Archives and Records Administration.

Audrey Amidon showing a close-up of acetate film in an advanced state of vinegar syndrome in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab at the National Archives at College Park. The film base has shrunk more than the emulsion causing the wrinkly surface you see here. Photographer: Richard Schneider. Source: US National Archives and Records Administration.

Brad Brooks, Brian Swidal, Laurice Clark, and Amy Bunk hanging up the seal of the National Archives at the Office of the Federal Registrar. Photographer: Jim Hemphil. Source: US National Archives and Records Administration.

Devon McKeown cleaning archival records at the National Archives at Chicago. Photographer: Mary Ann Zulevic. Source: US National Archives and Records Administration. contractor digitizes Los Angeles Naturalization Petitions at the National Archives at Riverside. Photographer: Joseph S. Peñaranda. Source: US National Archives and Records Administration.


In honor of the upcoming 70th anniversary of D-Day, the National Archives will be screening “The True Glory” on Friday at noon.

We will be screening the restored digital theater copy of the film, created by our Motion Picture Preservation Lab. Read more about the challenges of the restoration of the film here:

Garson Kanin and Carol Reed shaped a massive amount of unedited combat footage from nine different nations into a film that documented the events at the end of the war and bolstered the British and American home fronts.

The film chronicled the events in Europe from the Normandy invasion to the fall of the Nazi Party, and used first person narratives from multiple nationalities and roles, including the perspective of women and African-Americans.

“The True Glory” went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1945.

The screening is free and open to the public. Enter the National Archives through the Special Events entrance at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue.


Preservation of Frank Capra’s movie, “The Negro Soldier”.  A look at the preservation process from beginning to end.


Happy ‪#‎AskAnArchivist‬ Day!

We have five staff members from across the National Archives answering your archives questions. Tweet us your questions–our experts will be standing by at 11 am ET  on Twitter at @usnatarchives!


Audrey Amidon and Criss Kovac
Audrey and Criss work in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, where they and their colleagues perform conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives. They write about their work and their favorite film finds on The Unwritten Record. Audrey studied film archives at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and previously worked at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Criss studied film preservation at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and has been supervisor of the Motion Picture Lab since 2005.


Stephanie Greenhut

Stephanie Greenhut runs, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives, and shares teaching resources via National Archives Education on Facebook and the Education Updates blog. She focuses on education technology, incorporating primary sources into websites, apps, eBooks, and other online learning resources. She is a former classroom teacher.


Natalie Rocchio
Natalie specializes in digital outreach for the Center for Legislative Archives. She creates content, manages, and maintains the Center’s twitter and tumblr accounts, as well as the Center’s portion of She has a Master’s degree in History with concentrations in American History and Public History from American University.

@archivespres (Preservation Programs)

Nancy Stanfill
Nancy is a Preservation Technician at the St. Louis Preservation Program. She co-chairs the Preservation Programs Social Media accounts, which includes highlights from the Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) records and updates on breakthroughs in filming and scanning severely burned records. She has a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a Certificate in Conservation from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a member of the first class to begin the program in 1993.


Joseph P. Keefe

Joe is an Archives Specialist and Reference Team Lead and Social Media co-coordinator with the National Archives at Boston. He began his National Archives career in the Federal Records Center where he worked in both research and the Transfer of records into the facility. He moved to his current position as an Archives Specialist in 2006. Joe has a bachelor’s degree in History from Framingham State University in Framingham, Massachusetts and a MA in American History from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

He has lectured on numerous subjects in New England including genealogical research, Census, Naturalization and Passenger Lists and 18th 19th and 20th Century Military records, 54th Massachusetts Infantry and National Archives records related to World War II.


Every year, archivists and preservationists from around the world gather for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference. This year it was held in Seattle at a hotel that looks out over the city’s famed monorail. Heidi Holmstrom, of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, and Holly McIntyre, of the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Archival Unit, represented NARA at the conference.

AMIA opened its first full day with a plenary focusing on disaster recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The conference sessions were many and varied. Local archivists were on hand to provide an overview of film collections held by Seattle archives. Alumni of the AMIA/Image Permanence Institute internship program presented the results of their research into factors affecting acetate film deterioration. Heidi had the opportunity to present on the work of the digital motion picture subgroup of the External Reference Committee convened to support NARA’s recent Quality Assurance/Quality Control project.

A number of sessions addressed the challenges presented by born-digital media and the digitization of analog formats. Because moving image media files are so much bigger than text files (a scan of a single film can easily be several hundred gigabytes), they are even more difficult to manage and preserve. High-capacity networks and storage are needed to allow for files to be processed, moved, and secured. A digital asset management system designed for media files can streamline and simplify the tasks of moving, verifying, transcoding, and storing digital moving images. Learning about the systems and procedures that other institutions have in place can help provide guideposts for NARA as we work to preserve and provide access to the moving image records of the Federal government.

While AMIA sessions are a great way to learn about what others are doing, in the evenings attendees have a chance to show off their own institution’s holdings. This year’s conference featured two Archival Screening Nights, at which NARA presented a total of three films. The selections for this year were chosen from past programs by popular vote, and it was wonderful to see that NARA’s films have made an impression over the years. The NARA films shown were:

Curious Alice (ARC Identifier 5717248) – A trippy film using the Alice in Wonderland story to show children that drugs are bad.

How to Succeed with Brunettes (Item 330-DVIC-25147) – A dating etiquette film for Naval officers.

Effects of LSD-25 on Troops Marching (ARC Identifier 2123707) – This film is exactly what the title says.

The Challenge of the Push-Pull Track
There are many sound systems that have been used for motion picture films over the years. Some of the earliest relied on sound recorded to a disc or cylinder that had to be played back in sync with the film. Even after optical soundtracks became the industry standard there were multiple optical systems available. Soundtracks recorded as variable area or variable density are easy to play back with standard equipment and fortunately most soundtracks we see are one of these two types. However, NARA also has a good number of films with push-pull soundtracks.
Push-pull tracks cannot be read by standard equipment because the sound information contained on the two halves of the soundtrack must be processed and combined together. If the processing is not done, you can easily mistake the audio for a monologue by one of the teachers in a Charlie Brown cartoon.
NARA’s Motion Picture Preservation Lab recently installed a new system for reading optical sound that will finally allow us to decode push-pull soundtracks in house. A camera records a high-resolution image of the soundtrack that is then converted into audio information by software on a digital audio workstation. The software can isolate the two halves of the soundtrack image and process them together to output clear and undistorted audio. If preservation of the film original is required, the audio can be recorded optically onto stable polyester film stock.
Listen to our push-pull test to hear the difference!


Tinted or toned films in the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab

If I asked you to tell me what you think of when you think of silent films, one characteristic you may mention is that silent films are black and white. While it is true that most silent films were shot using black and white film, by the time they were projected many had vibrant colors added to them. From nearly the advent of cinema, films would be colored in a number of ways. Sometimes dyes would be painted by hand or stenciled onto the image, frame by frame. A simpler way to apply color was by tinting or toning. Tinted films were immersed in baths of acidic dye that bonded to the gelatin in the emulsion. In a tinted film, the emulsion remains black, but the tinting is visible in areas that would otherwise appear grey or white. In toned films, a chemical reaction replaces the dark silver in the image with colored metal compounds. For example, if Prussian blue was used, the dark parts of the image would have a blue tint. Sometimes tinting and toning are found together in the same film.

It’s always exciting when we come across a tinted or toned film in the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. When we do, we treat it the same way we would treat any color film and work to preserve the tinted and toned hues of the image. We recently worked on several films made with these color processes from the early 1930s.

Seeing Yosemite from a Saddle is a film that was tinted yellow and toned blue. The resulting color is a lush blue-green that complements the nature scenes captured in Yosemite National Park.

A second reel of film containing three National Park travelogues can be seen to be tinted yellow, a color commonly used in daytime outdoor scenes. Identified as Glacier National Park/Lassen National Park/Sequoia National Park, this reel of film provides tours of Glacier National Park in Montana and California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park and Sequoia National Park.

The history of color in cinema is long and fascinating. If you would like to learn more about film color, we recommend Barbara Flueckiger’s Timeline of Historical Film Colors.