The term “orphan film” describes a broad variety of film including lost works or works abandoned by their owner or copyright holder. Examples of these may include: newsreels, silent films, experimental works, home movies, documentary films, political commercials, amateur footage, advertisements, educational films, and ethnic films. The growing interest in these films is due to their rich value as cultural and historical artifacts. According to Wikipedia, “Documentarians, filmmakers, historians, curators, collectors, and scholars have joined forces with archivists because they deem orphans not only history documents, but also evidence of alternative, suppressed, minority, or forgotten histories.”
What makes any film independent? Just as we have been studying in class, independent films are considered independent on levels of production, distribution, and exhibition as well as qualities such as aesthetics, theme, and function. Because orphan films are forgotten/neglected pieces of history and culture, we can assume they are independent based on their production and distribution and through their aesthetic qualities. Such qualities could include structure and form, which I am assuming would be fairly different from such movies we are used to in our theaters.
When studying orphan films, it is important to consider whether they function more significantly in the independent film industry or are they more valuable in a historical sense. I would argue that the importance of orphan films, such as ethnic films of previous times, would serve more purpose in a museum or art house as opposed to introducing them back into the film industry. Another important element to consider is the history of these films before they were orphaned. Such as how they were “produced, distributed, and exhibited as part of a larger nontheatrical network and as active participants in alternative cinema cultures.”