PODCAST| Matt Micucci interviews film historian Russell Merritt.
To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture
Earlier this year, we lost David Shepard, one of the most important film preservationists and beloved champions of silent and classic cinema. If you have seen a Chaplin film, a D.W. Griffith film, a European silent movie, etc., chances are Shepard had something to do either with its restoration or its distribution. Film historian Russell Merritt, who knew him well, dedicated the Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture of the 36th Pordenone Silent Film Festival (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto) to him. “You don’t have to be unknowledgeable about film not to have heard about David Shepard,” he tells us in this interview, “and yet he is one of the major architects of film preservation and film distribution.” In addition to telling us about the many things Shepard did in his life and career, he also talks about where he believes his passion for early and classic cinema to have come from, and a little bit about how he met Shepard and the impact he had on his own career. With Merritt, who has also collaborated with the Pordenone Silent Film Festival for many years, we discuss the important role this festival played in raising awareness of the importance of silent film heritage and the pleasures of showing it. Finally, as the icing on the cake, we talk about a film that somewhat represents Le Giornate, A Flash of Light by D.W. Griffith. Made in 1910, A Flash of Light was one of three films Griffith made in one single week (the pioneering filmmaker made over 400 one-reel and two-reel films before making the work he is arguably best known for, The Birth of a Nation, in 1915). Though it is neither the most famous, nor the best film by Griffith, it represents the festival, which exhibits all silent films, from the famous usual suspects and the masterpieces, to the obscure and not so good works, in order to celebrate the entire landscape of the exciting first thirty years of film history and to celebrate the work of film preservation (including the teachings of David Shepard) that allows us to see them today.
The Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture: In 2002 the Giornate del Cinema Muto inaugurated this annual lecture in commemoration of Jonathan Dennis (1953-2002), founding director of the New Zealand Film Archive. Jonathan Dennis was an exemplary archivist, a champion of his country’s culture, particularly of Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand – and above all, a person of outstanding human qualities. The lecturers selected as people who are pre-eminent in some field of work associated with the conservation or appreciation of silent cinema. Previous lecturers include Neil Brand, Peter Lord, Naum Kleiman, and James Curtis. Film historian Russell Merritt dedicated the 2017 Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture to the memory of film preservationist David Shepard. The lecture was titled “David Shepard – Shadowing Silent Film for Fifty Years.”