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Caroline Frick Talks Texas Archive of the Moving Image

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Last fall Professor Caroline Frick sat down with us to talk about her work with the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI). TAMI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Texas film heritage. It digitizes Texas-related films and streams them on texasarchive.org.  Frick founded TAMI, and serves as its executive director.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN FILM PRESERVATION?
I fell in love with old movies when I was about 13 years old. My mother claims that I came up from the basement and asked if there were such things as librarians for old movies. And she thought, “that’s an odd question, but I think they’re called archivists.” 

WHEN DID YOU FOUND TAMI? HOW DOES IT WORK?
I essentially founded TAMI when I was a doctoral student here at UT. It didn’t really take off until the last maybe about 4 or 5 years because of a great partnership we were able to forge with the Texas Film commission.

With that partnership we’ve been able to start something called the Texas film roundup. The Texas Film Roundup has been going for basically four years now, where we crisscross the state with a “bring out your films” campaign.

We want to leave the material artifact with local communities - we think that’s where that material is most valued. But we digitize it and give them an access copy, which we then stream online. We don’t take in anything to the collection unless it can actually be used online, and that’s very different from a conventional archive point of view. So we are talking about home movies, industrial films, educational films, some feature films –all sorts of material that is new film history. And I think it’s an exciting, exciting time to be involved in film history in this respect.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE FILMS?
One I would talk about, I’m completely obsessed with and it’s unhealthy. I’d have to talk about Milton Barker. He was an industrial filmmaker who criss crossed the United States for forty years making the exact same film in local communities, and it was a film called The Kidnapper’s Foil. It was a way of making money throughout the depression and well into the 1970s because people didn’t have home movie cameras like we have today.

We’ve had a lot of really interesting discoveries in terms of nitrate film. One of my favorites is the Snake King of Brownsville. It’s a crazy story, a very American story, about an immigrant to the country who eventually ends up in Brownsville working essentially as as an importer and exporter of wild animals. And one of the things he did was he was a rattle snake – um, what would you call it – wrangler?

We have a great film from the 1970’s featuring Marty Robbins talking about his famous song El Paso, and it’s very strange – he’s wandering around El Paso talking about the song. It’s essentially a travelogue, why you should come to El Paso. Seeing this film is remarkable because you see what the border was until even just a few years ago.

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