This blog post was written by MARMIA’s 2021 Summer Intern from NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation MA program, Mike Stetz (pictured below). Mike is a Baltimore native who will be spending this June-August working on our collections both in-person at our Impact Hub office and remotely. We are so excited to have Mike join the MARMIA Team and look forward to learning more about his work!

During my 2021 spring semester at New York University’s Moving Image Archival and Preservation program, I was assigned to do a collection assessment for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive. A collection assessment is an in-depth evaluation of items or collections donated to an organization that have little information surrounding the content, condition, or value. I was ecstatic to help MARMIA since I have a great interest in working with community archives, but as a Baltimore native, the project being based in my hometown made it all the better. 

The collection I would be looking at was a group of 16mm films known as “The Frank Mugno Collection,” which MARMIA received in the fall of 2018 from the organization Baltimore Heritage. The films were given to Baltimore Heritage by Baltimore residents who knew the artist Frank Mugno. He did not have any surviving family and he asked these folks to get rid of the materials in his house after he passed away. Baltimore Heritage received many photographic prints of the Baltimore region, but could not keep the motion picture films, so MARMIA acquired them. I took a dive into local Maryland papers and magazines such as the October 2005 issue of Focal Point, a local photography magazine, the August 9th, 1979 issue of The Evening Sun in Baltimore, and the April 24th, 1979 issue of The Daily Times in Salisbury, MD, and I found that Mugno was a member and president of the Baltimore Camera Club, as well as a filmmaker, exhibiting his films in the Maryland area (Kelly Gilbert, “Camera Clubs Offer Advantages for Photo Fans,” The Evening Sun, August 9, 1979).

The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) · Thu, Aug 9, 1979 · Page 55 & 6

Further research into newspaper write ups from across the US, it became apparent that Mugno also traveled with his work and presented them as travelogues for Travel and Adventure film clubs across the country, sometimes providing his own narration during the screenings, in cities ranging from Atlanta to Des Moines to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Florida) · Sun, Dec 28, 1986 · Page 39; The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) · Sun, Apr 3, 1994 · Page 47; The Salina Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Thu, Jan 29, 1987 · Page 22 

While we are still a little unsure as to what exactly is on these reels, it is exciting to note that what MARMIA obtained seems to be original camera negatives, internegatives, and outtakes of his various films (including editing and film processing notes), which we can only assume showcase Mugno’s travels throughout Europe, from Bavaria to Brittany (you can learn more about what these terms mean at this online glossary).

Close-up of some of Mugno’s Original Camera Negative reels

MARMIA’s mission positions them as a great choice for the preservation and curation of Mugno’s films, even though his works focused on locales outside of the Mid-Atlantic area. Mugno appears to have been a fixture in the local Baltimore photography community, and the fact his films were constantly presented across the country indicates that his work resonated with many people, highlighting the importance of preserving and making this local artist’s work accessible. It seems that he had a production company called Frena Film Productions.

In terms of scope of my assessment, I looked at not only the filmic material found in the collection given to MARMIA by Baltimore Heritage, but I also evaluated the notes and paperwork found in the canisters. It is important to note that this assessment was performed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and so the entire process was done remotely on my end, via detailed photographs by Siobhan Hagan, CEO of MARMIA, and with these I was able to take a detailed inventory and note the condition of each reel.

The collection is composed of 15 metallic film canisters, with 29 reels of film distributed throughout them all. Based on measurements provided in the photos, there is approximately 28,125 feet of 16mm double perforated color film. While we were unable to look at each reel, both positive and negative reels are present in the collection. As with the process of looking at if the reels are negative or positive, I was unable to ascertain which (if any) of the film had sound present on it. It is important to note, which Siobhan was able to point out, there are sync marks on the leader hinting at a separate soundtrack for the film found in cans 3, 4, and 13, which, unfortunately, does not seem to be present. Most, if not all reels, look to be packed around 3” cores, tightly wrapped with film leader with markings and or notes, giving some idea of the content present on them. Finally, many of the accompanying documents and labels that came with the collection date most of these works from the mid to late 80s. The paper materials are camera notes, shipping labels, and what appear to be supporting documentation for color grading. This knowledge helps contextualize how old the film might be when looking at the content from a historical perspective, the material’s risk level, but most importantly that these films are most likely original production elements and not the final complete work that Mugno had exhibited across the country.

Metal film cans storing Frank Mugno films

In terms of inventorying the film, I used the notes found on the leader, as well as any notation on the film cans themselves, in the “Description” field, while the country or region listed (Bavaria, Holland, Italy, etc.) were used as the title of each reel. In terms of content, the general breakdown is as such:

Title/ContentNumber of Reels
Brittany & Normandy Original – Outtakes2
Bavaria OR Holland1
Holland Outtakes1
Title Test1
Unknown (No information provided)3

In terms of organization, like-content reels were packaged together, so Bavaria with Bavaria, and you would not find an Italy with Brittany. Again, it is important to note that I was able to find records of Mugno showing all these films across the country, so finalized versions of his films should exist, based on all the footage found in this collection.

When taking a more granular look at the paper materials found within the collection, there is a plethora of associated documentation present in various cans. Some cans contain camera notes that look like they were taken at the time of filming, whereas others have what looks to be rolls of paper to assist with color grading at film labs. There appears to be about 8 rolls of this grading paper, and about 30 sheets of accompanying notes, including some found on standard index cards. An example highlighting the importance of these paper documents can be seen in Can 15, which contained these color grading strips as well as the index cards. The first index card is titled “Bavaria Reel 2”, matching the description on the can, and has various sequential numbers and corresponding notes written on them.

Index card titled “Bavaria Reel 2”

While I am unfamiliar with film development, I am sure these notes would be easily deciphered by someone more knowledgeable given the context and the content of the film. It is also important to note that some of the associated documentation is from Colorlab, which is still in operation in Rockville, MD, and they may have records providing further context. This information stresses the importance of these accompanying documents as they can help establish a possible generation for the reels (generation meaning how close they are to the final versions of the films), as well as provenance of how the films were organized when received by MARMIA.

Based on newspaper clippings, it seems as if most of Mugno’s films were exhibited (published) after 1978, and so, per the US copyright law, these works would still be under copyright from his death plus 70 years. However, since it is assumed that Mugno has no next of kin or estate (according to Baltimore Heritage), there may be no copyright holder, leaving this work free to digitize. A more in-depth rights assessment needs to be conducted to confirm this, and should anyone have any more information regarding Frank or his family, we would love to know!

In addition to my inventories and condition assessment, a good portion of my project was to list next steps in preserving Mugno’s films, and I am happy to say that I will be interning at MARMIA this summer and will get the opportunity to enact some of the plan I had laid out! My top priorities for the collection this summer will be inspecting, cleaning, and repairing the film as needed, rehousing the material, and during this, providing a content assessment to see exactly what is on each reel.

 MARMIA’s Film Inspection and Repair Bench

In terms of inspection, I will first try and ascertain the film base of the reels, as this will help determine the risk level of the work. Since around the 1950s, film base has been made of acetate, which can be prone to degradation known as “vinegar syndrome” where the film becomes acidic, starts to warp, and become powdery, resulting the total loss of the image, which lead to the invention of a polyester film base, which is much more durable and not prone to this form of degradation. Determining what sort of base it is will inform long term care and storage of these materials. In addition to checking the base for vinegar syndrome, I will be sure to check for any signs of mold growth and clean away any found dirt  and debris. Finally, while there are no plans to play the films utilizing a projector, I will still check for any broken sprocket holes or tears in the film, fixing any damage utilizing MARMIA’s splicing and repair equipment. Any breaks or tears in the film could result in the film getting stuck in the equipment causing more harm should it be played through a projector. Once cleaned and repaired, each reel will be placed into its own secure, archival quality housing.

Finally, while inspecting the condition of the film I will be performing a rigorous content assessment. While we can assume the general content of each reel based on the labeling found on the cans and the leader, it would be helpful to see if there are any particular landmarks, places, or people present in the material. This will help establish better intellectual control, making the cataloging process much more detailed, providing better descriptions and access for those interested in viewing the films. 

While there is much work to be done this summer, we are lucky that the collection size is relatively manageable, and I believe Mugno’s work will be a great asset in MARMIA’s collection. The fact that he seemed to be a prolific travel documentarian based in the Baltimore area, puts his works right at home at MARMIA, complementing their mission in preserving regional works. Should anyone know any more about Frank and his work or more precisely, if any final versions of his films exist, do not hesitate to reach out to us, as it would be greatly helpful in our effort to preserve his films!