Ten-year-old non-profit Institute loses its funding.
LOS ANGELES, March 27, 2012 - The Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education (MPI), a non-profit organization that preserves the silent film legacy of producer/actress Mary Pickford, and uses her example to teach young children about film history and socially conscious filmmaking, has had its funding yanked by its long-time supporter, the Mary Pickford Foundation, a charitable trust started by Mary Pickford in 1958 and funded largely by investments of her original grant.
Mary Pickford (1892-1979), Hollywood's original "Artist," was the world's first movie superstar, known internationally as the original "America's Sweetheart." Starting in 1909 with D.W. Griffith, she became her own producer by 1919, and produced more than 200 films. She co-founded United Artists, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home and Hospita, and is today sometimes referred to by the title of Eileen Whitfield's 1997 biography: "The Woman Who Made Hollywood."
Ten years ago, in 2002, the Mary Pickford Foundation established the non-profit MPI for the purposes of preserving Pickford's legacy and educational outreach. Now, after the Institute's considerable success in both areas, the Foundation wants to shut it all down.
"We've worked very hard to honor the legacy of our namesake," says Hugh Munro Neely, Director of Archive, Library & Legacy for the Institute. "We can't understand why the Foundation has suddenly decided to witch directions and desert us."
Over the years the three-person staff of the Institute has developed curriculum, taught classes, maintained a free research library, produced film screenings with live music free to the public and restored Mary Pickford's silent films for DVD release. MPI has funded original research into film history, and introduced film screenings and provided free lectures. Executive Director, Andi Hicks, points out "We have discovered and restored and released a number of Mary Pickford silent films with newly composed scores, in several cases presenting films live with the National Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony and other major ensembles. And this June, our distributor will release a new 3-disk set of Pickford films on blu-ray and DVD, with introductions aimed specifically at introducing pre-teen and teenage children to the silent film."
MPI has built a reputation for educational outreach to underserved and at-risk youth in Los Angeles with its signature enrichment program, the Mary Pickford Mobile Film Classroom (MFC). A production 'studio-on-wheels', the MFC travels throughout greater Los Angeles to bring digital media storytelling instruction to students, grades 3-12, who do not have access to technology at their school or home. MPI educational outreach programs incorporate film history into a curriculum that provides a bridge from early cinema to modern filmmaking, empowering students to actualize their experiences as they utilize 21st century digital media tools.
The Mary Pickford Foundation has a three-man board of directors, and has assets reportedly in the neighborhood of 17 million dollars. The Foundation has said it now wishes to fund "projects," not "entities," and has informed Institute staff that it will not permit the Institute to use its assets, including Mary Pickford's films, for screenings or for promotion of the Institute and that it wishes MPI to remove Mary Pickford's name from its educational programs.
Manon Banta, MPI's Director of Education, notes, "The Institute's educational programs benefit from the role model of Mary Pickford. But these programs do have funding from other sources, and they will continue without the Foundation's help. MPI's other public benefit programs, its archive, free research library, lectures, screenings and concerts are another matter. Without the Foundation to provide the support these services need, public access will certainly be impaired.
In a year when the neglected art of silent cinema has been placed on center stage, thanks to multiple Oscar-winning films like "The Artist," and "Hugo," it seems ironic that an organization founded by and dedicated to the legacy of the most important women in the history of film would decide to pull its funding for a non-profit that has been working specifically to preserve her legacy.