Lillian Schwartz’s Computer Animations Slated for Preservation

by Dan Streible, MIAP acting director
National Film Preservation Foundation + The Film Foundation

Previewing a 16mm print of Lillian Schwartz’s UFOs before sending it off to the lab: Walter Forsberg (foreground), filmmaker and Schwartz aficionado Jodie Mack (center), Bobst Library’s media preservationist Alice Moscoso, and cinema studies professor Dan Streible (standing).


A recent press release with the above title delivered good news for NYU Cinema Studies and its MIAP program. However, the official announcement does not reveal the extensive, unpaid, extramural preservation advocacy work of NYU Libraries Research Fellow Walter Forsberg (MIAP ’10).
Thanks to his efforts, the pioneering computer-generated films created by Lillian Schwartz at Bell Labs in the 1970s will soon be saved through the 2011 Avant-Garde Masters Grants awarded by the two preservation foundations. Schwartz’s films are housed at the Ohio State University Libraries. However Forsberg’s push initiated the partnership with NYU’s Orphan Film Project that led to preservation work.
The press release continued:
“A generation before Toy Story, innovative artists were already making computer-generated films, but they’ve gone largely uncelebrated until now,” said Dan Streible, acting director of NYU Cinema Studies’ Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) program. “Lillian Schwartz worked alongside AT&T research scientists to create new ways of generating geometric forms, colorful abstractions, and human figures in motion. Her films document the state of computer language in the early seventies, but they also remain delightful to see and hear as works of art. Thanks to this Avant-Garde Masters grant, NYU MIAP students and film preservation professor Bill Brand will work with Ohio State, Forsberg, and Lillian Schwartz herself to save, screen, and study some of her earliest experiments, beginning with the 1970 film Pixillation, her first.” The others are Olympiad (1971), Enigma (1972), Mutations (1972), and Papillons (1973).
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An admirer of Schwartz’s work, Walter Forsberg, who is also a filmmaker, met the New York-based artist in 2010 and by year’s end had initiated an ad hoc film preservation partnership with Schwartz and Lisa Iacobellis, curator at Ohio State University Libraries. NYU Libraries media preservation specialist Alice Moscoso helped him inspect the OSU material. In spring 2011, film-to-film preservation began with partners Colorlab and the NYU Orphan Film Project. Schwartz’s short films UFOs (1971) and Galaxies (1974) were preserved pro bono by Colorlab, with Bill Brand’s BB Optics and second-year MIAP students (led by June Oh) also participating.
APRIL: Forsberg introduced the premiere screening of the new 16mm print of Galaxies at the Wisconsin Film Festival’s special Orphan Film Symposium session.
MAY: Brand introduced the premiere of UFOs at “Celebrating Orphan Films,” a two-day symposium co-presented by NYU Tisch / Cinema Studies and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
JUNE: Lillian Schwartz joined Forsberg and Brand for a special program of her films at the 57th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, held at Colgate University and programmed by Dan Streible. Her films had such an impact that, throughout the week, 150 seminarians treated Schwartz like a rock star, roaring with approval each time her work appeared on the screen.
JULY: NFPF selects five Schwartz films for the Avant-Garde Masters grant.
JULY: NY Women in Film & TV award a preservation grant for Schwartz’s Googolplex (1972).
AUGUST: MIAP alumni Audrey Young (’08) and Forsberg show UFOs and Galaxies at the Cineteca Nacional de México, as part of their two-day curated event entitled “Primer Encuentro Archivo Memoria, en colaboración con el Orphan Film Project.”
SEPTEMBER: Lillian Schwartz will introduce her films at Anthology Film Archives, part of “Sonic Truth: Films from the 2011 Flaherty Seminar,” emceed by Dan Streible. Monday, September 12, 7:30 pm.
OCTOBER – MAY 2012: Three Schwartz films are part of the traveling series “Flaherty on the Road”: Pixillation, UFOs, and a documentary about Lillian Schwartz at work, The Artist and the Computer (1980).
APRIL 11-14, 2012: The 8th Orphan Film Symposium will feature a session on the films produced by artists working at Bell Labs in the late 1960s and 1970s, with a screening of all the newly preserved 16mm films by Lillian Schwartz. Bill Brand, who himself was part of that experience, and Walter Forsberg will be on the panel, along with documentary filmmaker Nell Cox, who made films with Ricky Leacock for AT&T/Bell Labs, including Operator (1969) and French Lunch (1967).
As if that were not enough, Mr. Forsberg is also the lead producer of a second DVD for the Orphan Film Project, along with NYU Libraries and Colorlab. The collection of works on the theme of outer space include Ms. Schwartz’s Galaxies and UFOs.

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