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Release: Oct. 18, 2002

Grant to help restore student-made films from 1939

Two deteriorating films of dance performances made by graduate students as master's theses in 1939 will be saved through a $7,760 grant recently awarded to the University of Iowa Archives in the UI Library.

It is believed that this was the first time motion picture film was used as a medium for master's theses at the university. The grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation will be used to make new prints so that the original films can be retired to environmentally controlled storage.

"The thesis films were so severely shrunken and brittle that we could no longer view them," David McCartney, university archivist, said. "We're very fortunate that these will once again be available for study by the dance department and others interested in the history of dance." Completion is expected in 2003, he said.

The two films were created and produced by graduate students Luellen Bowles and Thelma Dodson. Dodson's film is a set of original dance compositions performed by fellow dance students that she choreographed, according to the abstract submitted with the film. Bowles collected dance compositions by several choreographers and assembled an instructional film illustrating types of dance movements, performed under her direction by local high school and university students.

Filmed in the Women's Gymnasium (now Halsey Hall), the two titles represent important early efforts to popularize dance through the medium of motion picture film. In 1924 the University of Iowa became the first university in the nation to accept paintings, music compositions, sculptures and other creative works by students enrolled in graduate-level fine arts programs. These two films added to that list of media.

McCartney said he sent both filmmakers letters about the restoration project. Dodson, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz., replied and said she was pleased to learn about the project. Bowles is thought to live in New York state now.

McCartney and Nancy Kraft, the University Libraries' head of preservation, wrote the grant and are overseeing the project.

"Because of the NFPF's grants, new organizations across the country are joining the movement to save America's moving image heritage. Through these efforts films that might have languished unseen and forgotten can now enrich the lives of all Americans," said Pamela Wintle of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, who represented the National Film Preservation Board on the summer grant panel.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving America's film heritage. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1996, the NFPF is the charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.