Film restoration projects imperiled by financial meltdown, says historian

Historians in the News

The financial crisis in the US, as is well known by now, felled many iconic Wall Street giants, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy. But far away from the public glare, the crisis, which continues to have a cascading effect on the US economy to this day, has also effectively pulled the plug on an ongoing Hollywood-inspired effort to preserve the cultural legacy of iconic Indian film director Satyajit Ray.

That project to restore the collected cinematic works of Indian filmdom’s Renaissance Man, which were at serious risk of being lost for posterity, was commissioned in the 1990s by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the annual Oscar ceremony. Over the years, it was funded by, among others, the Academy, the Ford Foundation and private donations from director Martin Scorsese and philanthropist David Woodley Packard, scion of the Hewlett-Packard family.

“But now money isn’t available in California because of the downturn,” says Dilip Basu, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was asked by the Academy to oversee the film restoration project, and heads the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the university.“California today is a failed state economically, and perhaps has more homeless people than Kolkata,” Basu told The Mag in Hong Kong recently.

Institutional funding for the project, which has so far successfully restored 21 of Ray’s 39 films (including short films), is drying up, given that the state of California, saddled with enormous budget deficits, is cutting back on public spending, and universities are abolishing inter-disciplinary programmes.

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