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The Emile de Antonio Papers at the WCFTR


Emile de Antonio committed to donating his materials to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in the middle of his career, based on the WCFTR’s initiative to collect film materials with a social activist bent. This resulted in an extraordinarily rich collection documenting the career of an independent filmmaker, including his points of contact with the New York art world and New Left politics of the 1960s through the 1980s. Documentation of de Antonio’s work in independent film production and distribution is most complete, with materials including correspondence, research material, legal and financial records, scripts, production notes, promotion and distribution information, and reviews. The collection holds prints of all of de Antonio’s films, along with deleted shots and scenes, and pre-print materials like negatives and soundtrack elements.


Though the de Antonio collection is the most complete of all the personal manuscript collections at the WCFTR, it is also the most complex. De Antonio began donating material in 1971, with 110 more accessions to the collection over the next 30 years. Three separate processing teams worked on the material in 1973, 1978, and 1984, using three different organizational methods. The most recent accessions were never processed or given detailed descriptions in the finding aid. Because of these uncoordinated efforts, it has been difficult for researchers to use the de Antonio collection and sift through the material efficiently.

Recently, a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Committee (NHPRC) allowed the WCFTR to reorganize the entire manuscript collection and to recatalog the film material. The Center thanks NHPRC and the Wisconsin Historical Society for supporting and assisting the project. This enormous reprocessing project resulted in a new, state-of-the-art online finding aid. All personal correspondence is now categorized by name, making it easy to trace de Antonio’s relationships with various luminaries. Film-related materials are now connected to specific films in the finding aid, so that if a researcher is curious about a film, he or she can easily see associated manuscript materials. These updates vastly improve accessibility to the de Antonio collection, which the WCFTR hopes will increase usage by interested scholars.