institution: George Eastman Museum
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
In late 2014, a major collection of Indian films was discovered in an abandoned multiplex in California. The prints had been shipped from India for release in specialized theaters in the United States. Unable to convert to digital projection, the multiplex abruptly closed in August 2013, and all of the release prints, posters, and projection equipment were left behind. The Eastman Museum was alerted to the situation and made the decision to save these. Moving image archivist Deborah Stoiber traveled out to California to lead the rescue and not only was the collection at the theater much larger than expected, the theater’s electricity was cut off, and they only had three days to complete the entire move.
If the Eastman Museum had not taken ownership of the material and provided an appropriate environment for preserving the collection, the films and the corresponding posters—plus a wide array of related audio recordings—would have been destroyed when the multiplex was razed earlier this year.
In October 2017, the museum presented the story of the rescue, conservation of the objects, and the future of the collection in an exhibition. As part of this, we wanted to give an audience of all ages the opportunity to understand the harrowing effort Stoiber made to retrieve the objects from California—how she made decisions about what to keep, how she had to search through the abandoned theater with nothing but flashlights and the light from her phone, and how the process was shortened by the three-day deadline. The set up was perfect for a video game.
Film Quest gives players the opportunity to put themselves in a museum archivist’s shoes and search for films to save. They earn points by collecting film reels and posters—deciding on the fly which should be kept and which must be left behind—as they use a flashlight to wind their way through the cavernous, pitch-black rooms of an abandoned movie theater. But they have to hurry their way through the different rooms. When time runs out, the theater will be torn down and only the films they’ve saved will live on for future generations.
Creating the game was a collaborative process between the museum’s Communications and Engagement department, which planned, created, and wrote the text for the game; the Moving Image Department, which helped with the planning and testing; and artist Jennifer Leigh Aho, a Rochester native currently attending the Savannah College of Art and Design for Video Game Art. The goal of the digital game is to help visitors gain a first-hand appreciation for the circumstances under which objects in our collection were rescued, understand the decisions made by the collections manager, and raise awareness of the historic value of these objects. Each of the three levels was designed to feel like the spaces that the museum’s archivist had to navigate to recover these films, walking around. Players can access the game from anywhere using their browser, whether on a computer or mobile device, and is also available on site as part of the exhibition.