Film, The Living Record of Our Memory (2023)

Film, The Living Record of Our Memory (2023)

An exhaustive, illuminating, and inspiring call to action for all lovers of film



Canada, Spain
Documentary, Drama
Ben Mankiewicz, Costa-Gavras, Jonas Mekas
120 min


A moving homage to all the unsung heroes preserving celluloid history for us — including, of course, the king that is Martin Scorsese.

What it's about

A spotlight on all the people who have made it their life’s work to preserve film, and an exploration of all the reasons their efforts are so vital.

The take

It's impossible not to be moved by this passionate love letter to the medium of film and its singular abilities to witness, commemorate, connect, educate, and, yes, entertain. The Living Record is more than that, though: it’s also an urgent clarion call for better support of the infrastructure and people who preserve and restore the celluloid reels that contain so much of our history.

In two hours, it packs in a lot — perhaps even too much, because there is so much fascinating material here that it’s almost overwhelming to take it in all at once. The doc draws on a sweeping line-up of contributors who collectively illuminate every facet of the need for preservation and restoration, from archivists to filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Ken Loach, and Costa-Gavras. Its scope is just as commendably exhaustive, featuring nuanced discussions of the dangers politics poses to preservation efforts, as well as the particular need for archives in formerly colonized countries to prevent “cultural amnesia.” Despite all the challenges it highlights, its tone isn’t hopeless, as the film draws strength from the tireless efforts of archivists and cinematic saviors like Martin Scorsese. It’s impossible to watch this and not come away affirmed or converted into similarly passionate champions of preservation.

What stands out

The doc’s first hour or so functions as a crash course in the history of film preservation, a responsibility that was initially assumed voluntarily by collectors and cinephiles — among them early pioneers like Henri Langlois, whose efforts during the Second World War prevented precious films from being burnt by the Nazis. There’s enough in this section to fill a documentary of its own, but The Living Record takes an admirably comprehensive approach, using the rest of its runtime to explore the crucial role preservation plays in widening the canon and not allowing historically undervalued perspectives to be erased from the world’s memory. It covers such threats as those posed by energy insecurity in tropical climates to the wholesale devaluation of film culture in countries like Brazil, the national archive of which was ravaged by fire in 2021 after the far-right government closed it down, effectively turning its treasure troves of highly flammable nitrate film into kindling fodder. This impressively exhaustive range of perspectives only enriches the urgency of The Living Record’s message.


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