Conservation Scholarship Award Goes to the Movies
Paolo Cherchi Usai, a pioneer in film preservation who has devoted his professional life to ensuring the survival of great works of art on film, is the 2005 recipient of the Award for Distinction in Scholarship and Conservation, given by Heritage Preservation and the College Art Association. This annual award recognizes outstanding contributions to both the understanding and conservation of art.
An early champion of film preservation before there was much public awareness of films fragility or organized commitment to its preservation, Cherchi Usai has worked tirelessly to ensure that many of the greatest works of film survive, in the belief that these artistic and historical documents must be seen to be part of our visual and cultural memory. He has shown historical foresight in his passion for silent films and their place in the emerging construction of a film canon.
As Senior Curator of the Motion Picture Department of George Eastman House (1989-2004), Cherchi Usai founded the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, the first institution of its kind in the United States. Cherchi Usais students now direct educational archives all over the world in nonprofit and public institutions as well as in film studios. The film school joined the University of Rochester in offering a masters degree program, the Selznick Graduate Program in Film and Media Preservation, the first such collaboration between a museum and a university.
Paolo Cherchi Usai has made immense contributions to film preservation and film studies, and his creative vision has inspired new respect for the art of cinema by raising consciousness and training a new generation of preservationists and film scholars, the awards committee wrote. He has identified cinema as the representative art form of modern life and a precious component of our artistic heritage, worthy of great preservation efforts.
Cherchi Usai is currently Director of the National Screen and Sound Archive in Australia. He is widely respected as an archivist, educator, art historian, scholar, and preservationist. His work has had interdisciplinary influence, spanning the development of scientific and technological solutions for archiving and preserving film as well as the elevation of scholarly discourse by affirming cinema as an art form that demands critical, theoretical, and formal analysis.
Le Giornati Cinema Muto, the worlds foremost exhibition venue for silent-era film held in Pordenone, Italy, was co-founded by Cherchi Usai. Scholars, preservationists, and film lovers can experience here, on the large screen with musical accompaniment, many rare films loaned by museums and archives around the world. Prior to its founding, repositories only screened their silent films within their own institutions and through occasional special loans, limiting a wider audience for silent film.
Cherchi Usais publications include The Griffith Project, co-published by the British Film Institute and Le Giornate, now in its eighth volume; The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory, and the Digital Dark Age (2001); and Burning Passions: An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema (1994).
This years selection committee members were Elizabeth Darrow, independent scholar; Chair; Andrea Kirsh, independent curator and scholar; Jay Krueger, National Gallery of Art; Lisa Schrenk, Norwich University; and Rustin Levenson, Rustin Levenson Art Conservation Associates.