Money for Mountain Films

In 1928 a trek up Mr. Rainier must have been a far more challenging undertaking than it is today. No high-tech, form-hugging, wicking fabrics, for starters. That the great outdoors offered the same gratifications as it does today, however is clear in a set of 448 films that the Seattle-based Mountaineers Club gave last year to the University of Washington.

The films – of climbing, hiking, sightseeing, and other recreations in the Pacific Northwest – now stand are in sight of a mountain hut of preservation, because the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the University of Washington Libraries’ Special Collections a $200,000 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to maintain them.

The grant will help the UW library preserve, arrange, describe, digitally reformat, and selectively webstream the films.

These moving-image records of the Mountaineers Club, which is an outdoor recreation, education, and conservation group, date from the 1920s to the early 1970s. They capture Mountaineers’ trail trips and summer outings, a tour of the Paradise Ice Caves on Mt. Rainier, mountain rescue films such as Mountains Don’t Care and This is Self Arrest, and performances by the Mountaineer Players at the Kitsap Forest Theater including Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The collections includes, then, everything from daring exploits to summer-camp-like diversions, in films made by Bob and Ira Spring, Dwight Watson, and Charles and Marion Hessey, as well as a newsreel shot by Selznick Pictures cameraman Charles Perryman documenting a 1923 winter ascent of Mount Rainier.

Before last year’s donation, “I had been working with Lowell Skoog of the Mountaineers for a long time to get this donation to happen,” says the UW’s special collections visual materials curator, Nicolette Bromberg. “Lowell is on the Mountaineers history committee and is a wealth of knowledge about the films. He really shepherded the donation along for the Mountaineers.”

The NEH grant is a two-year award. “At the end of that time, we will have a complete finding aid – collection guide – describing each film up online, and we will have 400 clips from the films in our moving-image digital site,” says Bromberg. She will work with her colleague, Hannah Palin, a film archives specialist.

The Mountaineer films join a UW moving-image collection already strong in home movies, documentary film, news film, industrial film, and educational film; items in the collection date from 1914 through recent videotape. The university’s special collections are rich in material relating to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Western Canada.

Among the holdings, for example, is the Ruth and Louis Kirk Moving Image Collection, a body of regional work related to the history, the landscape, and the people of the Pacific Northwest. The films document such subjects as Native American communities, national parks, environmental issues, historic preservation, and archaeological projects in the Northwest, including the Marmes Rockshelter, the Ozette Indian Village, and the Manis Mastodon sites. The Kirk collection is a selection of clips taken from the films and television shows produced by the Kirks from 1968 through 1991. They created more than 50 films and television shows in Tacoma, Washington, Vancouver, British Columbia, and elsewhere. They also made industrial films for such companies as Kumsheen Raft Adventures and Weyerhaeuser Real Estate and for public entities such as Tacoma Public Utilities and the National Park Service.

The NEH grant to the UW special collections is among $17-million in funds awarded this month for 208 humanities projects. The National Endowment for the Humanities, created in 1965, is a federal agency supporting research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

Several other Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grants were for work related to film and other moving images:

Catticus Corporation, Berkeley, California

Masthead of May 7, 1948, issue of the weekly newsletter Counterattack
American Reds: The Failed Revolution, 1920-1956. Development of a 90-minute film and website exploring the history of the rise and fall of the Communist Party, USA. ($75,000)

Bay Area & Peninsula Library System, San Mateo, California

California Light and Sound: The California Audiovisual Preservation Project. Digitization of 233 audio and moving image recordings pertaining to the history and culture of California in the 20th century, held by archives and libraries throughout the state. ($153,357)

University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

Music in the Films of Robert Altman: From M*A*S*H to A Prairie Home Companion. ($6,000)

Filmmakers Collaborative, Inc., Waltham, Massachusetts

A Martin 130 China Clipper class passenger-carrying flying boat, in 1934.
Across the Pacific. Production of a two-hour documentary about the 1935 crossing of the Pacific Ocean in a Pan American Airways flying boat named the China Clipper. ($600,000)

Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota

The Constitution. Production of a four-part, four-hour television series accompanied by a companion website, a digital engagement strategy, PBS NewsHour‘s Student Reporting Labs in ten cities, and a series of high school debates developed, implemented, and webcast by the National Constitution Center. ($400,000)

Western New York Public Broadcasting Association, Buffalo, New York

Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America. Production of a 90-minute documentary film and an associated website exploring the life and career of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. ($500,000)

CUNY Research Foundation, Bernard Baruch College, New York, New York

Cinema, Prisons, and the Making of Modern America. ($6,000)

Pittsburgh Film-makers, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home. Development of a script for a 90-minute documentary film and interactive website featuring a searchable database of interviews with female U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, an online community discussion forum, and a story-sharing tool. ($75,000)

– Peter Monaghan

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