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The WPA Film Library

As the world has witnessed in the past few months, having a U.S. politician on tape can be as exciting as combining your favorite soap opera with a well-played rugby match. The only thing possibly better would be having over 30...
November 1, 1998

As the world has witnessed in the past few months, having a U.S. politician on tape can be as exciting as combining your favorite soap opera with a well-played rugby match. The only thing possibly better would be having over 30 years’ worth of politicians on tape.

WETA, Washington’s PBS station, has been (legally) taping the comings and goings on Capitol Hill for over three decades and, in a recent agreement, contracted the Illinois-based WPA Film Library to act as their licensor. The library includes such highlights as the Watergate Hearings, the Church Committee Hearings on the CIA plot to kill Castro, the Iran-Contra Hearings and White Water. The library could also soon include impeachment proceedings conducted against President Bill Clinton. WETA will make royalties off the footage sales, and WPA will be responsible for cataloging and upgrading parts of the library which are on obsolete tape formats.

WPA’s parent company, MPI Media, found some of WETA’s footage useful when they worked on their recent Kennedy assassination home video, Image of an Assassination: A new look at the Zapruder Film. The video contains a digitally-enhanced version of the half-minute film the world has come to recognize as the official record of the 1963 murder. Released in July, the video has sold over 300,000 units – sales possibly spurred on by publicity around the U.S. government’s decision to seize the Zapruder film from the surviving family.

MPI Media is also working on a companion piece for broadcast entitled A Revisionist History of JFK. WETA was the only library to have footage from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr.

MPI Media has recently formed a new partnership with country music star Willie Nelson, which has been dubbed Luck Entertainment. Nelson has amassed a private library including over 2,000 hours of country, pop and soul music on film and video from the 1960s to the present. In a similar deal to the one struck with WETA, WPA will catalog and index the Nelson collection, with an eye towards the production of new material.

The new collections fit in with WPA’s specialties: music, culture, wildlife and historical footage. The archive currently contains over 40,000 hours of footage. WPA is also the North American agent for the Pathe collection – more than 4000 hours of historical footage on 35mm film. WPA has transferred the collection to D2, and can offer worldwide rights in perpetuity to North American clients. British Pathe sells the rights for non-North American clients.

One of the areas wpa is looking to develop is their presence on the Internet. ‘The web is becoming the dominant way to research subjects,’ explains WPA Film Library president, Matthew White. ‘The nice thing about the web is that it’s not just a marketing tool for the company anymore. It’s a workstation. When researchers are out there looking for materials, they can come to our site and do some real work, like they would here at our facility.’

The Internet is part of a WPA effort to make research as simple as possible. The archive has several themed catalogs, including a detailed one on military history. ‘We’re trying to build road maps through the collection, so that people coming in to find material aren’t hit by a lot of strange names of collections, but will actually have some subject-based tools to find things.’

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