Library of Congress Preserves American Entertainment in Nearby Town

CULPEPER -- Films don't stay in the Hollywood hills once they are out of the theater. Instead, they are kept in the hills outside Culpeper at the Library of Congress' Packard Campus, which is the home to all of the Library of Congress' audiovisual archives.

Greg Lukow is in charge of it.

"I think they're a little surprised, but they're reminded that we're only about 75 miles outside Washington, D.C. and certainly they'll recognize that the Library of Congress is associated with Washington, D.C.,” said Lukow.

The facility is on the site of a former federal reserve bank facility used as a bunker to store billions of dollars. Today, that space holds just part of the Library of Congress' 140 million items.

"We're all the audio/visual content. We're responsible for storing all the nation's films, television programs, radio programs, all the sound recordings, videos on different formats."

The tough part of preserving old films and videos is time and changing technology. Episodes of old television shows like "Laugh In" are on types of video tape the industry hasn't used in years. Now, those shows are becoming part of a digital archive.

"The challenges are media obsolescence. There are dozens if not hundreds of obsolete formats with all the audio/visual media, video especially."

One whole wing of the sprawling complex is dedicated to nitrate film. It's the first medium Hollywood used for movies and it needs to be carefully stored and handled because it's extremely flammable.

"Keeping not only the physical media alive. The analog media go back, in the case of films and sound recordings, 120 years, but also the equipment you play them back on. Keeping those machines alive and being able to convert them to digital files for future storage."

A refrigerated vault holds some of the most famous films which define the U.S.

"We have the famous Hollywood titles, like "Gone With the Wind" or "Wizard of Oz," "Singing in the Rain" and titles that are on the National Film Registry.”

While Lukow is proud of those marquee titles, he's equally proud of the films whose titles many haven't heard.

"What's really unique here are not those well-known Hollywood films. What's unique is the films that don't survive anywhere else in the world. The lesser-known films, the independent productions. A lot of silent films that only survive in one point in the world, happens to be here."

Visitors can make the trip to Culpeper to see some of those films. The Packard Campus has its own 205-seat theater with public showings several times a week.

"It's beautiful. We think it's the best place along the East Coast to watch a classic film.”

Lukow described why it's worth the trip.

"It's a theatrical setting that's so magnificent here. The theater itself with the chandeliers, the finishes."

It's the perfect setting to go back in time.

"It's the one-of-a-kind objects, not necessarily the well-known objects that are really, in some ways, what's most interesting about the archaeology, the sense of discovery of what we do here."

The theater is screening a movie called "It's a Date" from 1940 on Friday night and another called "Queen Christina" from 1933 on Saturday night. You can view the schedule of all the showings at the the theater here: www.loc.gov/avconservation/theater/schedule.html


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