Curatorial Crowd-Sourcing For The “Mostly Lost” DVDs

I have released two DVDs of films identified at the Mostly Lost film identification workshop. Whether they realize it or not, the participants at Mostly Lost from 2012 through 2017 had a hand in making this disc happen. It’s an added facet of the crowdsourcing that is at the core of what the workshop is all about.

The Mostly Lost workshop is held by and at the Library of Congress, at its Packard Preservation Campus in Culpeper VA. Over the course of three days, a couple hundred or so films are screened. Films whose beginnings and/or endings do not survive. They have been preserved by the world’s film archives, and have been catalogued with names like “unidentified western comedy” or “unidentified travelogue: Yosemite” or “unidentified American western #7”.

Our task is to try and figure out what the film is, while it is being projected on the screen in the theater. All the while, we are looking up clues and calling them out, in a race to see if we can not only identify the film and who is in it but also to do so before the film ends. It’s fun and lively, full of historical and cultural factoids, and occasional MST3K-esque riffs, puns and jokes.

We identify 40-50% of the segments shown, usually, and more identifications happen in the weeks following the workshop when people are back home and look more things up. The participants are sent a survey about the workshop, asking for feedback and also nominations for films identified during Mostly Lost that could be put onto a DVD that will be given out to the participants at the following year’s event. The DVD that participants get in their swag-bag usually contains three silent shorts — scored by me, Philip Carli and Andrew E. Simpson — and occasionally a sound film.

After Mostly Lost 4, when I’d released a few DVDs on my Undercrank Productions label, it occurred to me that a DVD release could be made by combining what was on the Treasures of Mostly Lost discs that had been issued at ML2, 3 and 4, containing ”hits” from ML1, 2 and 3. The films were already scanned and scored, and the release would help show classic film fans what the workshop was all about. I felt funny collecting royalties on the DVDs, and decided that they would instead go toward the costs of the following year’s workshop.

There were phone calls and emails and this all got worked out and okayed, and I released Found at Mostly Lost in March of 2016. Volume 2 came out in October 2018. The response to both discs has been very positive, and each has sold well in the initial months of each one’s release.

Mostly Lost name badge
This year’s badges came with stick-on printed ribbons that helped identify you as staff member, a presenter, or if you were a first-timer. I also got a ribbon that said “sponsor” but I left that off mine.

When I produce and release a DVD of comedy shorts, I’m the one picking the films. Sometimes Steve Massa and I collaborate on this process. In the case of the two Found at Mostly Lost DVDs, it was the workshop participants who responded to the surveys who were the curators of the discs.

Found at Mostly Lost is available on Amazon and several other online retailers. To buy Volume 1, click here, and for Volume 2 click here.

  • The films on Volume 1 — And the Villain Still Pursued Her; or, The Author’s Dream (Paul Panzer), The Faithful Dog; or, True to the End, The Falling Arrow (James Young Deer), Adolph Zink, In The Tall Grass Country (Francis Ford, Edith Storey), The Noodle Nut (Billy Bletcher), Fresh Fish (animated), Derby Day (Monty Banks), Do Me a Favor (Snub Pollard), and The Sunshine Spreader. 
  • The Films on Volume 2 — The Nickel Snatcher (1920) – Hank Mann, Fidelity (1911) – Pathé drama with Gertrude Norman, The Paper-Hanger’s Revenge (1918) – Bud Duncan, A Brass Button (1911) – Reliance drama 
    Jerry’s Perfect Day (1916) – George Ovey, One Million B.C. test footage (1940), Ventriloquist (1927) – William Frawley [sound film], Fifteen Minutes (1921) – Snub Pollard, In And Out (1920/21) – Monty Banks, Grief (1921) – Jimmie Adams, The Joyride (1928) – George LeMaire [sound film]

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