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USC helps keep Oscar shining bright

The USC Digital Repository becomes the new home for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' memorable moments.

Krieger_Dianeby Diane Krieger
Joan Fontaine Gary Cooper
A new partnership means USC will help document the achievement of iconic Hollywood stars such as Joan Fontaine and Gary Cooper. (Photo/Los Angeles Times via Wikimedia)

Though the 86th Academy Awards show wrapped up on Sunday, it will live on “in the cloud” — perfectly preserved and readily accessible for future generations to come, courtesy of USC’s digital preservation technology. Decades from now, culture scholars will still be able to cue up that unscripted moment, celebrity pratfall or wardrobe malfunction for which the shows are legend.

Under a new partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the digitally preserved content — such as Sunday’s telecast and previous Oscar ceremonies — now resides at USC.

“We are becoming the background infrastructure for some of the academy’s materials,” explained Sam Gustman, executive director of the USC Digital Repository, which manages and preserves the data. “We are their vault.”

A collaboration between USC Libraries, USC Information Technology Services and the USC Shoah Foundation, the USC Digital Repository was launched three years ago. The academy collection joins a list of academic, nonprofit and private sector partners who have transferred archival material to be preserved — among them two film studios, a television network and radio station WHYY in Philadelphia.

Weighing in at 320 terabytes, the collection is composed of audiovisual materials created by the academy over the last 50 years, covering thousands of hours of footage documenting past Oscar ceremonies, as well as related programs and events. It also includes the digital restoration and film preservation projects of the Academy Film Archive, comprising feature films, animations, documentaries and silent era shorts.

“To preserve a collection of this depth and breadth demands technical expertise and infrastructure that matches the significance of the materials,” said Gustman, who pioneered the digital video preservation field as founding chief technology officer of the venerable USC Shoah Foundation. Through the USC Digital Repository, the same gold standard of digitization and preservation, materials cataloging, metadata creation and high-performance networking engineered for the perpetuation of 52,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies is now available to outside groups, such as the academy.

“From so many perspectives — the business of entertainment, cinema craft and technology, the history of the academy itself — these collections are vital cultural materials,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries.

“Preserving the history of cinema in all its forms always has been a prime concern of the academy,” added Michael Pogorzelski, director of the Academy Film Archive. “We need to preserve our digital history alongside our celluloid heritage for the next century and beyond. That’s what this project with USC is all about.”

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