Thursday, February 2, 2017

Godspeed David Shepard

If you are a fan of silent movies you might well have heard of film preservationist David Shepard. He was responsible for the preservation and restoration of many silent films. Sadly, Mr. Shepard died on January 31 at the age of 76 after a long illness.

David Shepard was born in 1940 in New York City. It was because of the father of his one of his friends, a stage actor who played piano for silent films, that he became interested in movies. His friend's father would later hold weekly showing of movies for the neighbourhood kids, among whose number was also future film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. As a boy David Shepard would save up money from his paper route to buy film reels from the local camera stores. He attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, and then taught theatre and film at Penn State.

It was in 1968 that David Shepard was recruited by the newly founded American Film Institute to collect and preserve films. In 1973 Mr. Shepard joined Blackhawk Films as a vice president and served in that capacity until 1976. In 1986 he founded Film Preservation Associates, which later acquired Blackhawk Films. He also taught film at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.  He supported the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, California, and donated many prints to the museum over the years.

A complete list of the films preserved by David Shepard would be a very long one indeed. Suffice it to say that if one has watched a significant number of silent movies, chances are good that he or she watched several films that Mr. Shepard saved. Among the silent films preserved by Mr. Shepard number such classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), The General (1926), The Mark of Zorro (1920), Nosferatu (1922), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Robin Hood (1922), and Sunrise (1927). While his primary focus was silent movies, he also preserved some talkies, including Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933), The Emperor Jones (1933), and Meet John Doe (1941).

David Shepard was known for his generosity as a film preservationist. For thee Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's first Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival in 1998, he not only provided films but his own projection equipment. He was known to be helpful to film scholars, bloggers, and fans alike. From those who met him in person, it is said that he was a very approachable, very nice man. Ultimately it is hard to assess the total impact that David Shepard had on the preservation and restoration of silent movies. In fact, it seems likely that he played a role in the preservation of the vast majority of silent movies currently available on DVD today. For that silent movie fans owe Mr. Shepard an enormous amount of gratitude.

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