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Dennis Doros

Milestone Achievements

Dennis Doros and Amy Heller created Milestone Films in 1990, a company dedicated to the restoration and rediscovery of forgotten and neglected films, be they classic or contemporary. They first brought Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Mabarosi (1995) and Takeshi Kitano’s Fireworks (1997) stateside and they distribute such silent landmarks as South (1920), Beyond the Rocks (1922), and the films of Mary Pickford. But their greatest legacy lies the area of cinema archeology. They rescued the 1964 Russia/Cuba collaboration I Am Cuba from near oblivion, restoring the film and releasing it to great acclaim in the U.S. in 1995, and stepped up to distribute Charles Burnett’s 1979 landmark Killer of Sheep for the first time in theaters and on DVD.

Shirley Clarke’s ‘Portrait of Jason’

They have since resurrected a number of American independent landmarks, including On the Bowery (1956), The Exiles (1961), and Winter Soldier (1972). Their current mission (dubbed “Project Shirley” by Dennis Doros) is to restore and re-release the films of American director Shirley Clarke, an overlooked pioneer whose films have been almost impossible to see for decades. The Connection was released in 2012 and the restoration of Portrait of Jason is underway.

Partners in business and in marriage, Dennis and Amy continue to run Milestone Films from their home, though they have upgraded their facilities from a New York apartment to a house in Brooklyn. I caught up with Dennis at the 2012 Association of Moving Image Archivists conference, which took place in Seattle. The following interview began in person in Seattle but the bulk of it was conducted the week after AMIA via phone so I could talk to both Amy and Dennis in the relative calm of their New York home. I was lucky to catch them between trips.

Sean Axmaker: Can you talk about the process of restoring a film like The Exiles or Killer of Sheep or the current Shirley Clarke films? Not just the technical process of physically creating a print, but from discovery and tracking down materials to clearing rights. What does it take to restore and re-present a film is effectively unavailable to us?

Amy Heller: Each restoration project that we’ve done has been a completely different story. It can range form the easiest, which is a film that has just been restored, you can get the rights, you can bring it out. That’s really simple and it occasionally happens that way. But it also happens every other possible way. For instance, in the case of Killer of Sheep, it had been restored by UCLA. However, the music rights hadn’t been cleared, so that was an epic and very expensive journey finding out where all the rights owners were, clearing all the rights, paying for all the rights clearances. So that was a different kind of scenario. In any number of scenarios, we brought the films to the archives, most recently with Portrait of Jason.

Dennis Doros: Also Ornette and The Exiles.

Heller: In the case of Ornette and The Exiles, we knew where the materials were.

Doros: Actually, The Exiles was missing and I told the family that if they could find the negative, we would do it, and they sent the cinematographer to USC and he went through the vaults and found them. They were actually missing until we said, We’d love to distribute it if you can find it.

Heller: And in the case of Portrait of Jason, it was a film that had supposedly been restored and when we went to look at the restoration, it just didn’t look good. And the terms MOMA wanted in order to move ahead with it were not just financially but aesthetically difficult for us so Dennis began this long, long, long, convoluted quest to find if he could figure out where the camera elements were. That took all kinds of research with all kinds of people all over the world. So sometimes you have to be a sleuth and sometimes you just have to write the check. It just depends. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Milestone to the Rescue: Dennis Doros on ten American independent films in need of restoration

Milestone Films is raising funds via Kickstarter to fund a restoration of Shirley Clarke’s ‘Portrait of Jason.’

Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, partners in business and marriage, launched Milestone Films in 1990. They made a reputation for the company not merely for its restorations and revivals, but for rescuing and nurturing films that might otherwise have been drowned in the noise of the busy movie landscape, from Mikhail Kalatozov’s all but orphaned 1964 I Am Cuba to the 1972 documentary Winter Soldier (which was vilified in the 2004 presidential campaign) to, most recently, Shirley Clarke’s landmark indie The Connection. Dennis and Amy are currently raising funds to restore Clarke’s Portrait of Jason.

They are also members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Dennis came to the 2012 convention in Seattle (Amy, unfortunately, was unable to attend), where I was able to meet up with him. In the interests of full disclosure, I have known Dennis for years and had the pleasure to be a part of the commentary track with Sherman Alexie on Milestone’s DVD release of The Exiles. I can also report that Dennis knows more about the history of American independent cinema, and the forgotten and neglected works that deserve resurrection, than anyone I know. So I asked him to name the ten American independent films most in need of restoration.

“It’s not my ten best,” he’s careful to explain, “just the ones that I could personally support with great enthusiasm. There are tons more that I could add, but if we’re doing a list of ten, this is a cool list to consider and they each have their own merits and different reasons.”

1. The Cool World (Shirley Clarke, 1964) and the short films of Shirley Clarke “We started with Shirley Clarke because we thought it would be a great project to do and I really wanted to do the complete Shirley Clarke. And the only thing we do not have rights to is The Cool World. I think that we have her best films, The Connection and Portrait of Jason are my two favorites, but to represent Shirley in her entirety and to consider her entirety, it would help to have a beautiful version of The Cool World, which hasn’t been available yet.”

Continue reading at Fandor’s Keyframe