Ever hear of the 1970 documentary Sad Song of Yellow Skin, about life in war-torn Vietnam? How about the 1980 animated film Fatal Compromise, about a friendly hedgehog that falls prey to an enchanting cat? Once upon a time, both were considered important enough by someone at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to be included in the institution’s 16 mm film collection. And though these flicks can still be checked out, many other 16 mm films listed at the library are no longer available.
Film buffs mourn the disappearance of 16 mm reels: Many libraries are getting rid of them because they age poorly and their projectors are now relics. But Foggy Bottom resident Philip Hood has preserved at least part of MLK’s moribund collection: its catalog.
“I’ve always been into documenting things, going back to when I was 11 or 12 and I would keep a running audio diary on cassettes,” says Hood, 31. He graduated from interviews with friends and family to audio narration of his personal photographs, then to videos and 16 mm films. Though his films are not yet a commercial endeavor, he takes them, like all of his hobbies, very seriously.
And Hood has many hobbies, from practicing capoeira angola, an Afro-Brazilian art form combining dance and ritual combat, to playing his homemade didgeridoo. Recently, when Hood turned his attention to the 16 mm films at MLK, he found the library’s resources valuable but hardly ideal.
He was troubled by the catalog’s tattered condition and frustrated by the library’s unsophisticated search capabilities. A computer programmer by trade, he scanned every page of the catalog to create an online database of its titles and descriptions.
“If you’re living as a human being on this planet, it doesn’t make sense not to take whatever skills you have in order to free information,” says Hood, a New York native with long dreadlocks and a lot of open-source software on his PC. “My overall interest is that people should share.”
Ironically, Hood’s database is somewhat difficult for others to access; it’s a hidden page on his Web site dedicated to capoeira angola—a site that does not mention 16 mm film, offer a link to the database, or provide a search function leading to the list of film titles. “Everybody knows about it who I think ought to know about it,” maintains Hood, though he never mentioned the project to the audiovisual staff at MLK, despite regular visits to the department.
“Wow…that’s tripping me out,” Turner Freeman says when he learns of the database. Freeman, 45, has worked in MLK’s audiovisual department since 1989. “I wish he had talked to us first. He’s got tons of titles [in the database] that we no longer have.”
Hood says that he “didn’t know who to contact in the chain of command” at the library, adding, “I don’t have any knowledge of the catalog techniques of the library sciences.” He did, however, post messages on two online film-discussion sites—Frameworks and DC Film Salon—alerting them to the weeks-old database.
“I have, as a free and open public service to Washington DC public library patrons, converted their printed catalogue of films to an internet browsable format: http://www.angoleiro.com/wdc_16mm/,” Hood wrote.
Someone ought to let those patrons know.