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A giant in silent film restoration and preservation, David Shepard, passed away on January 31 2017.

David Shepard imageDavid, a film preservationist who restored hundreds of discarded, hidden or forgotten films by masters like Charlie Chaplin, F. W. Murnau and Buster Keaton and packaged rarities for the consumer market, was a good friend of Cinecon and a personal friend of some of our senior staffers

To honor David, his life and his work, we are showing one of his best restoration efforts, Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr., on opening night and accompanying it with the kind of music he loved best with a silent film presentation, a full orchestra.

More about David Shepard:
As a little boy David was introduced to silent films when his uncle Myron brought him a projector and films from France after World War II, including abridged versions of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Georges Melies’s experimental A Trip to the Moon. They kindled an enthusiasm that only grew with time. Soon David was buying old films by the reel with money from his paper route. Later working with the American Film Institute and Blackhawk Films, Mr. Shepard began searching out movies from studio vaults and private collections for restoration. His restoration techniques are now used widely in commercial preservation laboratories. In 1989, after acquiring Blackhawk’s library, he created his own company, Film Preservation Associates.

Mr. Shepard earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., in 1962 and a master’s in American studies from the University of Pennsylvania a year later. He taught theater and film at Pennsylvania State University before going to work for the American Film Institute with the aim of having films donated for preservation and archiving. While there he persuaded Paramount Pictures to turn over the 200 silent features it had in storage in Fort Lee, N.J.

Later, after working as head of product development for Blackhawk Films where he led the project to acquire and restore Chaplin’s Mutual shorts, Mr. Shepard was hired by the Directors Guild of America in 1976 to oversee a series of oral histories with directors like King Vidor and Henry King. In the 1980’s, he began teaching film history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the School of Cinema and Television at the University of Southern California.

Blackhawk Films closed in 1987 and offered Mr. Shepard its equipment for scrap value. He bought an industrial building to house it, and began doing commercial preservation and restoration work. Soon after, he acquired Blackhawk’s film library, which became the basis for his Film Preservation Associates. The company worked with distributors like Kino International and Flicker Alley. Many of the titles were released in box sets, including Masterworks of D. W. Griffith, The Art of Buster Keaton, The Golden Age of German Cinema, Cecil B. De Mille: The Visionary Years, Douglas Fairbanks: King of Hollywood, and Georges Melies: First wizard of the Cinema.

David received many honors for his work from various film groups through the years including San Francisco International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Denver Silent Film Festival, International Documentary Association, and the National Society of Film Critics, among others.

Not only did David Shepard dedicate his life to saving and restoring films it was also important to him that those films be made available to the public so that others could feel the same joy he did when he first discovered silent films as a child.

So as you sit in the theater on our opening night watching Steamboat Bill, Jr. look around at your fellow audience members as they laugh and enjoy the film this is the true tribute to David Shepard and to all of the passionate preservationists and archivists who came before and after him.



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