Farewell to Film Preservation Hero David Shepard

“If you’ve seen a superior print of a film by Chaplin or Keaton, Griffith or Murnau, chances are David had a hand in restoring it.” --Leonard Maltin


Farewell to Film Preservation Hero David Shepard (by Gary Meyer )

It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of David Shepard on January 31. He was with family and friends and especially important having his beloved dog at his side.

He was one of the heroes of film preservation whose work has probably touched everyone who loves cinema.

Many of us started collecting or showing Blackhawk Films as teenagers. David worked there, encouraging the owners to preserve their silent classics, in the 1960s and eventually bought the company in 1987. In between he became a preservationist at the American Film Institute (in1968) and started his own company, Film Preservation Associates.

Here's a brief Wikipedia bio and partial list of the films he restored, for many years in association with Kino and more recently with Serge Bromberg and Flicker Alley.

I am not sure when we became friends but probably in the mid 1970s. I remember reading in Classic Collector about his legal battles with Raymond Rohauer (some stories here and here but through my various ventures David was always there to offer advice, lend rare prints and guide the way to films I was seeking. And what a joy to discuss films with him, mostly classics but he knew the new ones too.

Film festivals, especially silent film festivals like San Francisco and Denver and the Niles Essanay Film Museum are a few of the recipients of his great generosity.

Here are two excellent interviews from 2000 in Digitally Obsessed and 2006 on Silents Are Golden. And for insight into his process read David's own "Polishing the Stoneface"article discussing his Buster Keaton restorations. (Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine for posting this hard-to-find article).

The tributes are coming in. A sampling on Nitrateville.

We will miss you David.

Gary Meyer, Landmark Theatres founder and former programmer for Telluride Film Fest