noun \gə-ˈri-lə, ge-, g(y)i-\ : a member of a usually small group of soldiers who do not belong to a regular army and who fight in a war as an independent unit

September 6, 2014

1400 hours – 1700 hours

Location: Maryland Historical Society (MHS) 201 W. Monument St. Baltimore, Maryland 21201

At the above place and time, I led a team of guerrilla motion picture film inspectors in a fact-finding operation. We were a small group: three in total, plus one person on the inside to provide us with institutional secrets and more #2 pencils. Our mission: carefully gather descriptive and technical information regarding MHS’s unprocessed moving image collection. With limited resources and thwarted in several cases by mold and lack of split reels, we were able to inspect a total of six small gauge film items in our allotted time period.

Obviously I had an awesome Saturday–how was yours?

Sure, using the term “guerrilla” may seem a bit overdramatic for this type of nerdy, non-life-threatening endeavor. However I assure you that a person needs as much zeal, ability to break certain rules, and slight disregard for personal health in order to fully commit to a MarMIA Recon Mission. The time to fight Time is now, and these films are not going to preserve themselves! Like several local collecting organizations, MHS does not have enough resources to do all of this dirty work (literally “dirty” from mold, dust, degradation effects, and who knows what else).

Some highlights from the films include: someone’s Uncle George riding a horse in the 1940’s; polar bears at the Baltimore Zoo in 1964 (née Druid Hill Park Zoo, and currently known as The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore); and early 1950’s horse races at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. We sure do love filming large animals here in Maryland!

The journey to preservation is a long, uphill one: once we complete our fact-finding mission (it took us ~25 minutes per item to inspect, so a 300 item collection–which would be considered a small to medium-sized one–would take us ~125 hours to inspect), then MHS must use the information we have gathered to do the following:

  1. Make preservation priorities
  2. Apply and receive for funds to undertake the preservation reformatting of high-priority items
  3. Physically complete the reformatting of said items utilizing a professional vendor
  4. Place the originals and their preservation masters in environments that must be constantly monitored and maintained
  5. At the same time as #’s 1-4, provide access to the content of these as well as thousands of other collections

You can probably see why MHS needs some help!

We will provide updates as we conduct our observations in hope that others will be inspired to hold similar guerrilla inspection parties–er, I mean, attacks!–to save their regional cultural heritage. Also, because we find it fun to look at moving images and hope you do too! If you work for a Maryland collecting organization that would like to know more about holding one of your own film inspection missions, please contact MarMIA.