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Concordia brings the Orphan Film Symposium to Canada for the first time

The biennial New York University event is a festival of neglected and rare archival footage open to scholars and the public
June 7, 2022
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Haidee Wasson: “These films and videos are vital pieces of our shared history and cultural heritage.”

For the first time in its 23-year history, New York University’s Orphan Film Symposium will be coming to Canada, hosted by Concordia.

From June 15 to 18, the J.A. DeSève Cinema will be flooded with cinephiles. They’ll be celebrating dozens of unfinished films, forgotten footage, rarities, outtakes, restorations, home movies and community-based audiovisual records.

“Bringing the Orphan Film Symposium to Concordia is, by any measure, a significant scholarly coup,” says Matt Soar, a communication studies professor and co-organizer of the event.

“It underscores the substantial research and research–creation investments and achievements of the co-hosting members of the faculties of Arts and Science and Fine Arts.”

Co-organizer Haidee Wasson, a film studies professor in the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, agrees. “It’s definitely a recognition of Concordia’s importance as an international centre for the study of the moving image and the long filmmaking traditions in this city,” she says.

‘Great opportunity for students to network with distinguished scholars’

Soar and Wasson are working alongside Distinguished University Research Professor Charles Acland and Dan Streible, an associate professor from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and director of the Orphan Film Symposium. Together they have assembled presenters from more than a dozen countries, accommodating all manner of films from the last 120 years of cinema.

Attendees will be an equally diverse international crowd, composed of a wide range of film scholars, artists, archivists, collectors, curators, conservators and enthusiasts who recognize these neglected aspects of our shared audiovisual culture.

This is more an ongoing collective conversation than a large multi-track conference, Soar says.

“Our emphasis has always been on screenings that are supplemented by intros, framing remarks and brief Q&As. In that sense, it's a semi-festival! Discussion really matters to us as that’s where these lost films become meaningful as new insights and knowledge.” 

Student tickets are half price for access to the whole symposium. This is a great opportunity for Concordians to network with internationally distinguished scholars working in this field, Wasson adds.

“For example, we will be hosting representatives from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Vulnerable Media Lab (from Queen's University) and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.” 

But the symposium is not just for academics and curators. Anyone interested in any of the screenings can pre-register or take their chances and turn up on the day, space allowing.

Partnership with Archive/Counter-archive from York University

Orphans 2022 has partnered with Archive/Counter-archive, a large, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded partnership grant housed at York University. Acland, Wasson and communication studies professor Monika Kin Gagnon were an essential part of the team. They drew from Canada’s audiovisual archive to program works that specifically gave voice to previously silenced or marginalized groups.

Archives around the world are full of audiovisual records that have been lost to public view or forgotten by the peoples and communities represented in them, Wasson explains.

“These films and videos are vital pieces of our shared history and cultural heritage. Bringing them into the light of day is a crucial link to the past, generating dialogue and awareness that was otherwise unavailable to us.”

As part of the symposium’s commitment to programming films related to decolonization and indigenization, Jennifer Dysart (Cree, South Indian Lake, Manitoba), Tom Child, N̓a̱msg̱a̱mk̓ala (Kwagu’ł First Nation), Melissa Dollman (Yankton Sioux descent), Rhiannon Sorrell and Michael Parrish (Navajo, Diné College) will be presenting at Orphans.

Rare gems, outtakes and a projector petting zoo

Other rare gems include outtakes of author James Baldwin in Istanbul; previously unseen footage of Malcolm X; restored films by Afro-Cuban revolutionary filmmaker Sara Gómez; and new work by internationally acclaimed artist Bill Morrison and Helen Hill Award–winning filmmaker Kelly Gallagher.

A panel on participatory community media will screen work from the YWCA Battered Women’s Program; New Orleans Video Access Center; Third World Newsreel; Activist Archivists; and the Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project.

The DeSève Cinema will also have a “projector petting zoo.” Wasson explained that many neglected films were seen on small-format film technologies that are at risk of obsolescence.

“At past symposia, presenters were so devoted to sharing rare titles that they gathered in hotel rooms into the wee hours to project films on devices they had carried with them on airplanes in their suitcases! We wanted to open the doors so that more people could benefit from this energy and access these rare materials.”


Find out more about the 2022 Orphan Film Symposium, taking place from June 15 to 18 at Concordia.

Learn about Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and the Department of Communication Studies



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