Introducing Films of State, a Conference on Government Films

Today I am thrilled to tell you about something we’ve been working on: Films of State, a three day online conference focused on government films and NARA’s holdings, scheduled for April 7-9, 2021. We’ve partnered with the University of Maryland Cinema and Media Studies program and gathered an international slate of scholars to discuss some of the latest research on films made by the US government, covering federal organizations from the United States Army Signal Corps to the Office of Economic Opportunity and everything in between. Films made by the United States Information Agency are covered extensively, reflecting current scholarly interest. Every panel will also include either a briefing on related moving image records held at the National Archives or a staff member on hand during the discussion session to help attendees learn how to find and use federal moving image records or associated textual records.

In addition to the academic sessions, we’ll have an evening screening with films and clips related to the presentations and a panel on the practical uses of government film, from its role as historical evidence to reuse by educators and in television documentaries. In short, we hope there’s something for everyone and that attendees will come away knowing more about government films and NARA’s moving image holdings.

You can learn more about the program and register at the Films of State conference webpage. Registration is free and open to all. Live captioning is available in the Zoom webinar platform.

Two women inspect and view film while recording information in notebooks. The women are sitting at a table in front of large cabinets and are wearing dresses.
The original caption for this photograph reads: “Jean Bridget (Left) and Mrs. Ethel Burke examine some of the 100,000,000 feet of film in the National Archives movie library before cataloguing it. 10/8/1944” (Local Identifier: 208-FS-3221)

How the Films of State Conference Came to Be

The idea for Films of State was conceived by Dr. Oliver Gaycken, a professor in the Cinema and Media Studies Program at the University of Maryland and Dr. Martin Johnson, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Gaycken, who teaches just down the road from Archives II in College Park, approached staff at NARA with the concept of a government film conference and we realized that the timing was perfect for a virtual event. Looking toward a spring conference, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab collaborated with the Moving Image and Sound Branch to start planning. Dr. Brian Real, of Southern Connecticut State University, joined a team that eventually included a half dozen NARA staff to organize and coordinate. 

Moving Images at the National Archives And Records Administration

The National Archives and Records Administration is the archival repository of the United States government. We preserve more than half a million reels of film and hundreds of thousands of sound and video recordings made by federal agencies. In addition, we hold the textual records of the agencies that produced the films, making us one of the most comprehensive film archives there is with so much more left to research and explore. Works produced by the United States government are not subject to copyright and are treated as though in the public domain, meaning we likely also have the largest public domain film collection in the world, and citizens may re-use most of what we make available online however they wish (please see our Permissions and Rights page for more information on this topic). We hope that Films of State will touch off more research and more creative projects in the coming months and years.

To whet your appetite for three days of presentations and briefings on government film, Heidi Holmstrom and I have created four playlists that correspond to panel topics. Each list has ten to twenty films. You can view them on our YouTube channel using the links below:

Government and the Land

Government and the People

Moving Images and the Military

Public Diplomacy 

To learn more about moving image and sound research at NARA, visit our Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Holdings Research Page, where you will find overviews on holdings, topic pages, and links to other moving image resources.