Documentary with Nelson connections wins international award for archival footage

May 2, 2014

The trailer for “A Film Never Made,” a documentary codirected and produced by Nelson Institute faculty affiliate Gregg Mitman, captured the award for best use of archival footage in a short production at the 11th annual FOCAL International Awards April 30.

The awards ceremony, hosted by the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries International, honors producers, filmmakers and other creative professionals who have used library footage across all genre and platforms of production. The nonprofit trade association is established as one of the leading voices in the industry, with a membership of more than 300 international companies and individuals.

Mitman, who is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, has collaborated with Nelson Institute doctoral student Emmanuel Urey and director, producer and cinematographer Sarita Siegel on the film.

Urey, a child of Liberia's civil war, journeyed from a rural upbringing in a small interior village in the West African Republic of Liberia, to higher education at the Nelson Institute. In a chance meeting with Mitman, he unexpectedly learned of a rare cache of film shot in Liberia by a 1926 Harvard scientific expedition sponsored by Firestone Plantations Company. 

The unedited footage juxtaposes remarkable moving images of mythic chiefs, village life, and tribal customs with uncomfortable glimpses into forced labor, inequitable social practices, and clear-cutting on traditional land. Determined to reconnect the present with the past, Urey takes the footage home, traveling the streets of Monrovia and remote rural villages, where crowds gather around his iPhone, iPad or laptop.

The documentary captures the struggles of Urey and his family, of tribal elders, and of restless youth as they weave the past into a more inclusive future.

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Photo: Sarita Siegel (right), representing A Film Never Made, recipient of the FOCAL International Award for best use of archival footage in a short production, with award sponsor Tom Barnes, IMG Sport Video Archive.