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AACA Library to host film series for in-house digitized car films

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Still from AACA Library video of 1965 Glidden tour.

With about half of the films in the AACA Library’s collection now digitized, the library’s staffers have organized a film series to not only showcase the films but also preview what club members can expect when the library eventually moves into its new digs.

“It’s pretty easy for us to do this,” said Chris Ritter, the director of the Hershey-based library. “All we’ve got to do is set up a screen and offer some snacks.”

Getting to this point hasn’t exactly been easy, however. The library began the process of researching, fundraising for, and building a Kinograph close to three years ago specifically to digitize the hundreds of films that members of the Antique Automobile Club of America donated to the library, mostly in the Seventies and Eighties.

Except the off-the-shelf plans for the Kinograph were for 35mm film while the library’s collection consisted mostly of 16mm films. So, according to Ritter, the library now calls its Kinograph “Mike’s Movie Machine” to commemorate the modifications librarian Mike Reilly made to accommodate the different film size.

“We now have a very efficient machine — or, at least, as efficient as it can get, taking a digital picture of each frame,” Ritter said.

To digitize a film, Mike’s Movie Machine typically takes about eight hours to scan a 12-hour film; while that process is fairly automatic, Reilly then has to spend another three hours formatting and stabilizing the images, then adding in the soundtrack where necessary.

Fortunately, Ritter said, most of the films are in good shape and the library has been able to store them in a climate-controlled space to keep them from deteriorating. “There’s nothing unscannable in the collection, nothing dangerous,” he said, referring to the highly flammable nitrate films used in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Word of the library’s success with its version of the Kinograph has actually spread, Ritter said: About half a dozen other museums and libraries have contacted the AACA Library for help with their own digitization efforts.

About half of the library’s collection of 200 films have so far been digitized and placed on the library’s YouTube channel. After the library staff finishes digitizing the entire collection, they may start digitizing AACA members’ films, should there be enough demand.

Eventually, once the library moves into the club’s new headquarters across town sometime in the next couple of years, Ritter said the library will start scheduling regular public events. The upcoming series of films at the library’s current location on Governor Road will thus be a sort of trial run for those programs.

The series will kick off November 17 with the films of Jam Handy, followed by Ab Jenkins, Salt King, on December 15; comedies from the film vault on January 12; films showcasing AACA meet history on February 16; Glidden Tour history on March 23; and A History of Motor Racing, parts I and II, on April 13. Admission to the film series events will be free.

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