Preserving Freedom Summer

Contact sheet of photographs taken during the filming of A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer [Richard Beymer Collection]

Washington University Film & Media Archive has been actively engaged in many projects to preserve original film elements and interviews from important works about the civil rights era. The Film & Media Archive currently has two active preservation grants. The latest, awarded in 2014 by the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), is to preserve Richard Beymer’s documentary A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer. This film is unique as Beymer was one of the few filmmakers working side-by-side with the activists and volunteers who made up the massive movement that was Freedom Summer.

Awarded in 2011, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Eyes on the Prize Preservation Project will preserve the first six hours of the series and all associated interviews. Regarded as the definitive work on the Civil Rights Movement, Henry Hampton’s documentary series Eyes on the Prize has been seen by millions since its PBS debut in 1987. However, large portions of the over 100 interviews conducted never made it into the final series. In addition to the first six episodes, the Eyes on the Prize Preservation Project will preserve 75 hours of complete interviews, including never-before seen outtakes. Together, this includes 375,000 feet of film, enough to drape over the Arch nearly 600 times

The original elements from these films exist on acetate-based film that is highly vulnerable to decay and were a high priority to be transferred to a more stable polyester-based film. Despite the rapid growth in digital technology, film is still the most stable preservation element. Preserving these two important works will help create a more complete portrait of Freedom Summer and will ensure the future accessibility of these historically-significant materials.