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Drake Stutesman
Drake Stutesman
Get to Know the Women's Film Preservation Fund

Have you ever wondered if a film you love might one day be lost forever because it was not properly preserved or stored? Close to 100 films have avoided that dire fate thanks to NYWIFT’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund, co-chaired by Ina Archer and Kirsten Larvick.

Janet Stilson, former VP, Special Events, interviewed Drake Stutesman, who at the time was co-chair of the WFPF, about the Fund.

Stutesman’s love of film is very much in evidence beyond her committee work. She’s taught courses in literature and cinema at New York University and the U.K.’s University of North London; her cultural history, Snake, was published by Reaktion Books, and her writings on costume design, literature and film have been published by the British Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art and Bookforum, among others. She also edits Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media.

Why are you involved in the WFPF committee?
I love being part of the WFPF, and have been involved since 2001. The Fund adds enormously to the public’s knowledge of women’s innovative and pioneering contributions to cinema, from its inception. We are creating a literal film library for these works, so they can be seen by audiences around the world and studied by scholars for decades to come.

In today’s scramble to preserve crumbling films, many of the works that come to us for grants might be bypassed, perhaps considered “unimportant.” Yet when they’re screened, often for the first time in many years, they are met with wild enthusiasm at every showing. It is a thrill to be part of something so vital to women, the film industry, society and culture.

What kinds of films has the Fund helped to restore?
The Fund has given grants to some 80 films since it began in 1996, with backing from the Museum of Modern Art and the AMC network. It’s the only fund of its kind in the world. We fund American films in which a woman has played a significant creative role. She might be the director, producer, writer, editor, animator, actor, or someone serving in another significant capacity. The film might be feature-length, or run for only a few minutes.

We have supported films in all categories: experimental, melodrama, comedy, animation, feminist and documentary. This includes early silents, such as Alice Guy-Blaché’s charming Mixed Pets (1911), which she filmed in her New Jersey studio. And, it also includes Barbara Kopple’s Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County USA (1977), which had an enormous impact on American politics.  

We have restored many animated films, such as work by Mary Ellen Bute, Helen Hill and Jane Aaron, among others. The collection also includes such extraordinary African-American films as Jessie Maple’s poignant drama Will (1975), set in 1970s Harlem; Dirty Gertie From Harlem (1946), starring the vibrant Francine Everett; and the jumping musical That Man of Mine (1946), with Ruby Dee. A full list of our films is on the NYWIFT Web site.

If I want to join your committee, do I need to have certain industry contacts or experience?
We are always eager to have new members. As part of NYWIFT, they bring new and welcome experience in the industry, and this variety is always a boon to the group. Enthusiasm and curiosity about film, film history, and women in film are all vital assets.

How often does your committee meet, and how much time is required on a monthly basis?
We meet regularly once a month for about two hours. There are subcommittees, which meet independently, if they choose. They organize their own schedules.

What kinds of things do members do? Does committee work largely involve phoning people and asking for money, or is there more to it than that?
We rarely make phone calls to raise money. Instead, we send out a yearly letter asking for donations and also approach some donors directly. Members help on various levels, and many work on subcommittees, such as those responsible for grants or the events that showcase restored films.

We ask that committee members contribute steady work hours. These are flexible and determined by whatever project someone is working on. The hours aren’t steep! They can be minimal, but as the Fund’s reach is expanding, what we really need is a consistent commitment.

Members participate in organizing some of the many panels, receptions and screenings that the WFPF oversees, often held annually in New York at venues that have included MoMA, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Tribeca Film Festival, CUNY and Columbia University. This year, we are pleased to be part of the Whitney Museum’s huge retrospective of work by Guy-Blaché, a pioneer silent film director.

For more information, including how to join, contact Kirsten Larvick at kirsten@kirstenstudio.com.

Join the conversation on Twitter: #nywift | @nywift

NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts