In September of last year CFA was approached by Eric Choi from the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) with a proposition: Eric works in the acquisitions department of KOFA and was inquiring about collaborating with CFA to make any Korea-related material held by CFA accessible to researchers in South Korea through KOFA. We said yes.
KOFA, located in Seoul, South Korea, was first established in 1974 as the Korean Film Depository, a name it used until a restructuring in 1991 changed it to KOFA in 1991. The national film archive for South Korea, KOFA currently holds over 6,000 Korean films, along with thousands of items of film-related ephemera, and operates the archive, a museum, library, and cinematheque. For anyone not in South Korea, KOFA also runs the Korean Movie Database and a YouTube channel featuring full-length films for free (highly recommended).
Eric’s project specifically was to seek out documentary footage of Korea held in foreign archives and obtain copies that could be brought back to South Korea and made available for viewing on-site at the KOFA library locations. Particularly footage of the country during and prior to the Korean War (1950-1953) is difficult to find within South Korea due to the poor economic state of the country at that time. Most of the documentary film shot was exported for international newsreels and travelogues.
Since CFA’s mission is to collect and focus on Midwestern film, it might seem surprising that we had any material at first that would aid KOFA in this project. However, even before visiting us in Chicago, Eric was able to identify three films in our collections that do exactly that. Coming from the Frank Koza, Margaret Conneely, and Carl Godman Collections, the three films are a mix of newsreel segments and home movie footage from Godman, a Lieutenant in the Navy during the war. Once Eric was here, we were able to show him two more: another newsreel segment from Koza, and more home movie material from the Howard Prouty Collection, shot by a currently unknown soldier.
At the time, our only digital copies of these films were made in SD from our Tobin telecine machines, but KOFA was looking for the highest resolution possible to store in their archive. Therefore, over the next couple of months, we worked to scan each film on our Kinetta scanner and produce 2K masters to send to KOFA. Each file was also watermarked with CFA’s name to document its provenance. In turn, KOFA will direct any researcher viewing these materials in South Korea to CFA for more information.
Featured in these films are primarily scenes of American troops at combat and leisure in various parts of Korea during the war. One produced by Frank Koza is particularly intimate for a newsreel and important to our understanding of Frank and his collection, as it features a shot of Frank himself, labeling his film cans and sending notes about his observations back to the U.S. The film then shows the occupying American troops exploring war-torn Seoul and encountering the residents.
The two home movies (from Godman and Prouty) are even more intimate, as they weren’t shot with an eye for distribution. Instead, the films show rare moments of soldiers at camp within the Korean wilderness, glimpses of U.S.O.-sponsored entertainment, travels aboard Naval ships, and scenes loading and unloading at places like Wonsan, North Korea—all in bright 8mm Kodachrome color.
The final files were delivered back to KOFA this weekend on a hard drive they had previously sent to us. Also included in their package with the hard drive were two copies of the KOFA-published magazine 영화천국 (Cinema Heaven) that include an article Eric wrote about CFA and his visit to our office. We’re glad to have had this chance to collaborate with KOFA and strengthen our ties internationally to give access to these films and get them seen more broadly!