David Shepard, Silent Film Preservation Giant, Dies at 76

No one lives forever -- except, perhaps, Shirley MacLaine. This is where we ring down the final curtain for Filmdom's finest.
Bruce Calvert
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David Shepard, Silent Film Preservation Giant, Dies at 76

Postby Bruce Calvert » Wed Feb 01, 2017 3:24 pm


David Shepard, Silent Film Preservation Giant, Dies at 76

10:39 AM PST 2/1/2017 by Etan Vlessing

Courtesy Photo
David Shepard
He restored most of the silent films in today's DVD and video collections.

David Shepard, a silent film preservation giant and archivist, has died. He was 76.

Shepard died on Tuesday night in a hospice in Oregon after a long illness, Shirley Hughes, director of the Toronto Silent Film Festival, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.

"He was extremely important for film preservation, restoration and advocacy. He was an intelligent and generous man with his time, his expertise and unfailingly enthusiasm for silent film," Hughes said in a statement.

U.S. distributor Kino Lorber, who collaborated with Shepard on a host of silent film releases, also paid tribute to the film preservation champion. "It is with much sadness that Kino Lorber bids farewell to one of its longtime collaborators, film preservationist David Shepard," Lorber said Wednesday.

A lifetime silent film preservationist, Shepard, through his company, Film Preservation Associates, restored most of the silent films in today's DVD and video collections. His restoration credits include Abel Gance’s La Roue (1922), Chaplin at Keystone (1914) and C. B. DeMille’s 1927 production of Chicago.

"Shepard has done as much as anyone to both preserve and promote our film heritage, especially the silent era," Thomas Gladysz, founder and director of the Louise Brooks Society, said in a statement on news of Shepard's passing.

Born in New York City in 1940, Shepard started out in the 16mm and 8mm market by acquiring and expanding the Blackhawk Films library. He later expanded to video releases via Kino Lorber, Image Entertainment, Flicker Alley, and other companies.

Through his efforts, Hollywood's best known silent films have survived to be viewed by modern audiences. In 1992, Shepard transferred to NTSC video a 16mm color negative of D.W. Griffith's silent film Birth of a Nation made from a tinted nitrate print. That classic film restoration was later released on VHS, laserdisc and DVD.

Shepard more recently worked with Lobster Films in France to release classic silent films. "One important thing to note about David: he was not a hoarder. He shared his collection generously, and his guiding beacon was always the films themselves — doing whatever he could do just to get the films seen," Kino Lorber said in its Facebook tribute.

Shepard's work with Kino Lorber included the original VHS release of Fritz Lang’s The Spiders, works by Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore, and titles from the Griffith Masterworks collection and the Red Silents Soviet film collection.

He taught cinema at the USC Film School, joined the American Film Institute in 1968 as an early staff member, and co-authored or edited around a dozen books.

Shepard has been recognized by the San Francisco International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Denver Silent Film Festival, International Documentary Association and the National Society of Film Critics, among others.

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