The Importance of Documentary Preservation

The Importance of Documentary Preservation

Documentary preservation has been a hot topic in the industry for some time now. It focuses on the digitizing of old, archive footage from documentary films, as well as outtakes made during production. The database of these clips would then be organized and archived, to make it traceable for future generations. It’s a way to preserve the legacy of filmmaking, helping young and aspiring filmmakers launch their own movie-making careers. 


Preserving film history is the most obvious reason to save these films, especially in terms of famous, well-made and artistically-vital works. However, we should make sure that even fewer successful-films are saved as well. Future generations deserve to learn about the industry in a comprehensive, organized way.


Film archive can be used as a resource to produce future films. Browsing an archive also allows you to explore topics that have intrigued filmmakers in the past, giving you ideas for films you could make on your own.

Commercial Value

It is often said that documentaries have less commercial value than fictional films, and this is somewhat true. Documentaries often have trouble finding platforms to be streamed or sold from. Archives can provide such a platform. An interesting example is a 70s documentary entitled The Energy War, which filmed inside Congress with young politicians such as Al Gore and John Kerry. It’s a fascinating look into the veterans of US politics, but there’s no other marketable place for it outside of the archives. 


Movie making is all about trial and error, and there’s much more to a film than what makes it to the big screen. Outtakes should be archived as well, providing a unique look into the process of making movies. Outtakes are a vital teaching tool, showing what a movie looks like before it is polished and complete, showing that even the best films can make mistakes in the process.

Shooting Ratio

Documentary movies are produced in a much higher shooting ratio than fictional films. It is not unusual for a documentary film to have hundreds of films under its name. Archives help to save these films from being forgotten or overlooked. It also provides a more in-depth look at how even the best of filmmakers make mistakes: a fact that offers a humbling, much-needed perspective.

Who Should Do It? 

Archival is of utmost importance to the industry, as well as the public at large. A governmental effort to preserve films would be best, assuming the process can still be supervised by those within the industry.


There is an ongoing effort to preserve documentary films, archiving them in a digital format. This is best done as a collaborative approach between the government and film creators themselves. Archives are essential tools, providing a way to learn about the process of creating films and the history of cinema itself.