Film buffs going on offensive tonight to save Pratt Library's 16mm collection


In a resolution being introduced tonight in the City Council Baltimore's film community is fighting a state recommendation that the Enoch Pratt Free Library stop collecting 16mm film and switch to videotape.

City Council Resolution 503 states that " . . . substituting videotapes for film originals in the existing collection would cheat viewers of quality, information and artistic integrity" and calls for the city and state governments to restore adequate funding to the Pratt audio-visual department.

A decision by the board of trustees of the Pratt is not expected before the end of June.

The recommendation urging all Maryland libraries to stop collecting 16mm film was made in January by a state library task force. The aim is to save money and take advantage of new


"It's like eight-track tapes -- eventually [16mm films are] going to disappear, " said J. Maurice Travillian, assistant state superintendent for libraries. "The Pratt is going to have to make the change [to video] someday anyway, the question is whether it's now or later."

The average cost of a 16mm film is between $250 and $300; the cost for the same film on video is usually under $80. However, critics of the plan point out that while 16mm is virtually permanent, video tape deteriorates with use, and replacement costs would soon equal the costs of the higher quality celluloid.

In the last century, the Pratt has collected some 3,900 16mm films, many of them historical, rare, and held in great affection by Baltimore's academic and film community.

Because the library's audio-visual budget has dropped from $100,000 in 1991 to $17,000 this year, the Pratt hasn't bought a 16mm film in almost two years.

Along the way, as videotape has revolutionized the entertainment industry, requests for 16mm films also have slipped. Still, the library said, some 750,000 people a year borrow the celluloid movies.

Film departments of local universities also depend on the collection, which includes a rare copy of "The Rite of Love and Death" by Japanese director Yukio Mishima, and the hard-to-find "Directed by John Ford," a documentary by Peter Bogdanovich.

"It's absolutely essential for our curricular needs to be able to rely on the Pratt collection, which is peerless," said Dr. Jerome Christensen, director of film and media studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Christensen said the collection is so valuable as a document of the 20th century's most important technology of mass entertainment, that he will announce tonight that Hopkins would be willing to help pay the cost of maintaining it.

"We want the public to have access to 16mm. We're not interested in owning them or jealously guarding them," he said.

"But we are willing to making a continuing contribution to the Pratt along with other institutions."

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