David Shepard 1940 – 2017

David Shepard 1940-2017


I was great­ly sad­dened by the news of the death of my friend David Shep­ard. It is a loss for his fam­i­ly, friends, film preser­va­tion and to all peo­ple, young and old alike, who love the art of film. His loss to the film com­mu­ni­ty will be felt for gen­er­a­tions yet to come.

David was not only a good friend but my men­tor, advis­er, and fel­low film col­lec­tor whose pas­sion can only be described as a “call­ing.” It is unimag­in­able to think of a world with­out a per­son such as David. I first met David when I bought a 16mm Black­hawk print from him at a film con­ven­tion in the ear­ly 1970’s.  A few years lat­er David had heard that I had a Pho­to­play­er and asked if he might use it for musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment for one of his video releas­es.  I jumped at the chance to work with David and to be involved in film preser­va­tion — it was a dream come true!

David Shep­ard is the unsung hero who always would lend a print or do a show for free if it meant enter­tain­ing and edu­cat­ing the audi­ence at the same time. He would dri­ve great dis­tances and bring his 16mm pro­jec­tors to do these shows, not ask­ing for any­thing in return oth­er than the great joy these shows would give his audi­ences. It was this kind­ness and the want to share the film expe­ri­ence with younger audi­ences that gave me the inspi­ra­tion to do, what I call, 16mm “kid­die” shows at local pri­ma­ry schools. To hear the young chil­dren laugh at the films, of long for­got­ten and unknown come­di­ans to them, is a unique expe­ri­ence I shall nev­er soon for­get.

In 2000 I went to a friend’s house that had a 35mm hand crank pro­jec­tor. I was so fas­ci­nat­ed by the mechan­ics and the beau­ty of the 35mm image that I asked if I might crank a reel or two.  At 2:00 a.m. , after I had cranked 20,000 feet of film, they had to pull me away from the pro­jec­tor! I was hooked! I pur­chased a pro­jec­tor which I had to do a com­plete restora­tion on and found some old 35mm sound film and began doing 35mm hand crank demon­stra­tions in my dri­ve­way.

In Octo­ber of 2002 David asked me if I could do him a favor. Would I hand crank two shows at the Silent Movie The­ater with Bob Mitchell play­ing the music for the film. This would be for the 100th anniver­sary of George Melies’ Trip To The Moon! So there I was with my assis­tant Gary Gib­son dressed in full cos­tume as itin­er­ant pro­jec­tion­ists crank­ing out two silent film shows for David as he read the copy aloud for “Moon.” After the last show David said: “Keep the print of Trip To The Moon as a gift for the help you gave me.” Hell, I would have paid him for the oppor­tu­ni­ty! It was these two shows that gave me the inspi­ra­tion to recre­ate itin­er­ant pro­jec­tion motion pic­ture shows. David and his busi­ness part­ner Serge Bromberg (of Lob­ster Films) have always let me bor­row and helped me find and/or pur­chase 35mm silent films to be used in my shows for the edu­ca­tion of new audi­ences.

We have done some two hun­dred 35mm hand crank shows since that first one at the Silent Movie The­ater. We have appeared  at muse­ums, col­leges, schools, church­es and reg­u­lar­ly at the Nether­cutt Muse­um spread­ing the art of the silent film,  all thanks to David Shep­ard.

Serge Bromberg has the spark and pas­sion to car­ry on David’s work. Serge is a true lover of film. Serge and David have saved so much film and then have made it acces­si­ble to the pub­lic through their videos that it is a great hon­or to have been able to work with them when they have asked me.

How do you sum up a man’s life and work in a few para­graphs? I don’t think that it is pos­si­ble with David Shepard’s life. What I do think is pos­si­ble is to car­ry on his pas­sion for the art of film and to share it as much as pos­si­ble as he did so well, so it may nev­er be for­got­ten.

David, I will nev­er for­get you. I will know that when I hear young audi­ences laugh, cheer or scream with joy at a film that is being shown because of you, my heart will swell with pride for know­ing you. May GOD for­ev­er bless you.

Joe Rin­au­do

Below, film archivists and his­to­ri­ans Serge Bromberg, Leonard Maltin and Kevin Brown­low on DAVID SHEPARD: AMERICAN FILM PRESERVATIONIST, a film trib­ute to Shep­ard on Mon­day, Novem­ber 7, 2016 at at Loew Audi­to­ri­um, Dart­mouth Col­lege:

This trib­ute appeared in The Hol­ly­wood Reporter.

The Hollywood Reporter


9 thoughts on “David Shepard 1940 – 2017”

  1. Joe, Won­der­ful event tonight at The Acad­e­my. Your cue­ing at the style 41 was great! I have been around the­atre organs all my life. I had no idea how ver­sa­tile the Foto­play­er was, not some quaint con­trap­tion. As I men­tioned, I have a Wurl­itzer ver­sion which, when installed in my Fres­no house, was used fre­quent­ly for silent films. That unit is a restored pile of parts in my garage look­ing for the right home, my home, to again romp in and do its job.

  2. Well writ­ten Joe! David’s pas­sion for silent film con­tin­ues, as you have been inspired and con­tin­ue to inform and enter­tain peo­ple of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions. That love for silent cin­e­ma has touched the lives of many peo­ple and will con­tin­ue to be dis­cov­ered thanks to David’s work, your work and oth­ers.

  3. David H. Shep­ard, 76, has passed. Inop­er­a­ble can­cer. I remem­ber his chill­ing words a decade ago when he said the can­cer would prob­a­bly reoc­cur. So it did. There isn’t enough paper to doc­u­ment all the sto­ries, all the film preser­va­tion, all the lives he changed, includ­ing mine. It is too hard to write even these few ran­dom thoughts, so I wouldn’t try to explain who he was, what he did, what he meant to so many for so long. In my case, half a cen­tu­ry. All the places he’s lived, all across the coun­try — I’ve been to most of them. The last being Hat Creek, CA: “My charm­ing log house among fast-flow­ing waters,” he’d say. The place was iso­lat­ed from civ­i­liza­tion. He liked that. In 1973, in Dav­en­port, IA, he bought a remote farm that remind­ed me of the crop-dust­ing scenes in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. That made David an easy tar­get for thieves who famous­ly cart­ed off 800 trea­sured films when he was away. They took a keep­sake that meant a lot, the cam­era Karl Brown gave him, the one Brown used when he filmed THE BIRTH OF THE NATION. Arrests were made months lat­er. Then David sold the farm and moved into town. Dri­ving his Jeep. His whole life he loved dri­ving Jeeps. Dur­ing our Black­hawk Films, Inc. days, we would always go to lunch at Kent Eastin’s favorite place, Bishop’s. I think David respect­ed the founder of Black­hawk more than any oth­er per­son. I can nev­er for­get the one day at lunch when Mr. East­in argued that THE BIRTH OF THE NATION was racist. David coun­tered with all his pas­sion to the con­trary, and was real­ly hurt when East­in was not per­suad­ed. The Black­hawk build­ing had been con­struct­ed as a brew­ery in 1857. There were tun­nels under­neath it to store beer kegs. The tun­nels proved to be ide­al for stor­ing film. Mr. East­in was the world’s pre-emi­nent rail­road buff. Trains rum­bled by the build­ing just ten feet away, vibrat­ing win­dows, all day long. He loved it. We’d be in a pro­duc­tion meet­ing, and all busi­ness — con­cern­ing the lat­est Fox Movi­etone release, or the next half-price sale — would be sus­pend­ed until the train passed. David and I would look at one anoth­er and smile every time. What fun we had there. Before the Civ­il War, slaves flee­ing to the North would dis­em­bark from the trains and hide in those tunnels.…I think I can name a dozen of the dogs David so loved through the years — begin­ning with Bar­usch­ka in the late 1960s. In recent years, he had focused on res­cues or dogs with med­ical issues, like Bai­ley, his Shih-Tsu. “Most of the canines I care for are seniors,” he’d say, “since I prob­a­bly don’t have a puppy’s life­time left in me.”…Those ear­ly Cinecons were so great, and he was always there. This is an enor­mous loss to me, and to so many in the film com­mu­ni­ty. We worked togeth­er for three gold­en years at Black­hawk Films. Then there was all the good times we had in New York when he’d vis­it in his job with the Director’s Guild. Much lat­er here in LA he want­ed me to be one of the “asso­ciates” when he formed Film Preser­va­tion Asso­ciates, along with his ex-wife, Kim. But I was work­ing for the Hal Roach Stu­dios copy­right pro­pri­etor in the East­ern Hemi­sphere, and they said I couldn’t serve in both capac­i­ties. Lat­er still, at a Cinecon in the ear­ly 1990’s, pass­ing through the deal­ers room, I intro­duced David to Hugh Hefn­er. Then as I did so, I real­ized and said I was intro­duc­ing the man (Hef) who bought Black­hawk Films, Inc. (the shares) to the man (David H. Shep­ard) who pur­chased most of the company’s assets, at least the key assets. Nei­ther knew the con­nec­tion. Any­way, I can’t get start­ed telling sto­ries. David was com­pli­cat­ed, a man of con­tra­dic­tions, and the smartest per­son I ever knew, or knew of. It was no sur­prise to learn when I met his younger broth­er that he’d earned I don’t know how many PhDs from places like MIT. David kid­ded about his own ABD, his All But Dis­ser­ta­tion on His­to­ry of Art. His under­grad degree was in Phi­los­o­phy and Reli­gion, which ought to sur­prise some! David was nev­er a denizen of Face­book. “One of the won­ders of the inter­net is that it’s a total­ly open forum,” he said. “The world’s great­est expert — or great­est idiot — is free to post. I wouldn’t dream of being put on the defen­sive by anyone’s rant. Besides, I’m too busy turn­ing more souf­fles into bricks.”…Can’t say any more. Too painful. …RIPDHS

  4. Joe, I’m sor­ry to hear you’ve lost a long-time friend and men­tor. But you know, you have been step­ping up to that posi­tion your­self, tak­ing peo­ple under your wing and giv­ing live demon­stra­tions and speech­es. You are now, as your upcom­ing doc­u­men­tary title states, The Men­tor.

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