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On Your Radar: These Amazing Shadows
by Karen Pecota

Filmmakers Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton use a unique part of their professional background to showcase film as a specialized art form, telling of American history in their latest documentary These Amazing Shadows.

Paul Marino attended Boston Latin High School, went to law school at Hastings College and practiced as a criminal defense attorney for twenty-seven years. At the time of his retirement he co-founded Gravitas Docufilms (Gravitas, LLC). His directorial debut, Also Ran, was awarded the Best Political documentary in 2006 at the Atlanta Docufest. His film, Faces of Genocide opened the International Citizens’ Tribunal on Sudan that was held in New York city on November 13, 2006.

Kurt Norton producer, writer, director of several short films co-founded Gravitas, LLC with Paul Mariano in 2004. Their main focus was producing short form documentaries (“mitigation videos”) about the lives of defendants in death penalty cases. The videos have made a significant impact on district attorneys to stop their pursuit of the death penalty in several cases.

Mariano and Norton’s threefold premise in These Amazing Shadows educates and explains a bigger picture of film. They set out to document the passage of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988; to explain the reason why it is important to spotlight the work; and attempt to enlighten what impact the Act and its results have on American history and culture.

A few years ago Mariano and Norton read a newspaper article stating a little known fact about the Library of Congress, in reference to the film industry. The two film buffs were surprised that they had not learned of the preservation organization sooner; but, once they did, their research began the collaboration revealed in their work These Amazing Shadows. First, we must note that the Library of Congress was founded in 1800. It is the research library for the United States Congress (the national library of the United States) and is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. With that being said, in 1989, the Library of Congress established The National Film Registry. The Registry was formed as a direct and practical result that flowed out of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988. Since 1989, the librarian of Congress, currently, Dr. James H. Billington chooses twenty-five films each year noteworthy of documenting American history through the art of the moving picture. The yearly additions are chosen by Dr. Billinton together with input from the public and the advice from the National Film Preservation Board. Dr. Billington explains that the annual installation of the films is deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. American film really transformed the way in which a young nation learned to express itself, express it exuberance, exposed its problems and reflect its hopes. It wasn’t simply a form of entertainment; it was living history…audio-visual history of the Twenty century”.

The Registry includes a wide variety of films and not necessarily what you, nor I, might imagine. It currently contains a conglomeration of 550 pieces of work: newsreels, silent films, experimental films, shorts, home movies, music videos, documentaries, mainstream and independent films, TV movies, films out of copyright protection and film serials.

A few current registry stats for the film buff reads as follows: As of 2010, the oldest film listed in the registry is Newark Athlete (1891) with the most recent being Fargo (1996). The year 1939 holds the largest number of selections for preservation—seventeen total. The longest time between when a film debuted until it was selected spans 119 years—it was Newark Athlete (1891) selected in 2010. The shortest time is a ten year stint and sharing this spotlight are the films Do the Right Thing, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Toy Story and Fargo.

To visit The National Film Registry website go to You might not see your favorite film listed and wonder why. You will have the opportunity to make your suggestion. The librarian of Congress encourages the public to make submissions. I found it fascinating when I logged on to the site and realized some of my all-time favorites were not yet among those listed. I sent in my request and received a very kind response from a National Film Preservation Board member for taking the time to make suggestions. In fact, I was invited back to add to my list before the coming selection deadline for 2011.

Listing the films for preservation is not the final stop for the selected works. The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation takes each film and implements detailed, extensive treatment to each selection to ensure that the film is preserved for future generations. The complicated process takes place at the Library of Congresses state-of-the-art facility for preservation, providing access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings.

Documenting only through the eye of the lens isn’t necessarily going to be preserved in the American historical archives. Some say that we have lost over 50% of our motion picture projects shot before 1950 because the films were not in safe enough environments for preservation nor the materials given TLC (Tender Loving Care). We can now be confident that the films selected to the National Film Registry since 1989 will get the best possible treatment for archival preservation.

Mariano and Norton support their enlightening documentary with several interviews from a variety of people in the film. The round robin type of storytelling builds an emotional attachment appropriate to entice its audience. It’s an invigorating testimony of American history important for to preserve. The eye witness accounts in film form thus far need a safe resting place in the United States annals while annually adding to its numbers. Mariano and Norton comment further to suggest that the Registry films tell what Americans did, what they thought, what they felt, what they aspired to and the lies they told themselves”. I’ll let you be the judge once you embark on the journey to look into These Amazing Shadows.