Catalogues All | Arts & Culture | Cinema | History THESE AMAZING SHADOWS

Subtitle: The Movies That Make America
Category All , Arts & Culture , Cinema , History
Year: 2011
Country: USA
Running Time: 58' | 88'
Production: Gravitas Docufilms
Director: Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton
Official Website:

What do the films Casablanca, Blazing Saddles and West Side Story have incommon? Besides being popular, they have also been deemed “culturally,historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and listed inThe National Film Registry, a roll call of American cinema treasures that reflectsthe diversity of film, and indeed, the American experience itself. The current listof 550 films includes selections from every genre – documentaries, homemovies, Hollywood classics, avant-garde, newsreels and silent films. Americanmovies tell us so much about ourselves… not just what we did, but what wethought, what we felt, what we imagined, what we aspired to…and the lies wetold ourselves.

These Amazing Shadows is an 88-minute documentary rich with imagery, interweaving clips from America’s most-beloved films (and many rarer treasures) with moving personal tales of how specific films have reflected our culture and changed lives. The film includes interviews with the Librarian of Congress (Dr. James Billington), famous directors (including Christopher Nolan, John Lasseter, Rob Reiner, John Singleton, Amy Heckerling, and John Waters), producers (Gale Anne Hurd and James Schamus), archivists, admired actors (Tim Roth, Debbie Reynolds, Peter Coyote), and members of the National Film Preservation Board. Shot on HD and imparting a warm film look, the documentary explores the cultural impact and historical significance of American films. These Amazing Shadows shows us how American cinema is truly our “family album.”

These Amazing Shadows documents the passage of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 and how this law set in motion a system to identify notable films. The Librarian of Congress, with input from the public and advice from the National Film Preservation Board, selects twenty-five films each year to add to the Registry. These Amazing Shadows goes behind the scenes to show the discussions, the debates and the drama that surround this selection process. As stated by Dr, James Billington, the Librarian of Congress: “American film really transformed the way in which a young nation learned to express itself, express its exuberance, expose its problems, and reflect its hopes. It wasn’t simply a form of entertainment; it was living history… audio-visual history of the twentieth century.”

The impact that films have had on the “national memory” and on American attitudes is explored in These Amazing Shadows. The tumultuous and still unsettled history of race relations is reflected and examined in such disparate films as D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, John Ford’s The Searchers, and John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood. The important role of women in filmmaking is revealed from the pioneering work of Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner to the recent work of Amy Heckerling and Julie Dash. In addition, Rick Prelinger takes a humorous look at the influence and impact of such cold war propaganda films as Duck and Cover and The House in the Middle.

These Amazing Shadows shows how films create deep emotional connections with audiences. As the film critic, author and National Film Preservation Board member Jay Carr states: “Stories are profoundly important to human beings.” Inter-cut with key film scenes, interviewees share the nearly universal experience of being swept away by a film. Liz Stanley, archivist at the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, Library of Congress, recounts, “I got involved in film archiving because I saw Gone with the Wind when I was twelve… and, to think that I might have a part in some other 12-year-old girl seeing a movie that changes their life is really exciting to me, just making sure that those images are around for generations after I’m gone is very, very exciting.”

The documentary explores why film endures as one of the most important mediums of art and entertainment and describes what is being done to preserve America’s film heritage.

For over a century, American movies have forged emotional connections with millions of viewers, providing a portal to our past, defining our present, and imagining our future. American films helped shape a global cultural language, connecting audiences across borders and different belief systems. And, just as our ancient ancestors shared stories to connect and thrive, we too share stories…retelling in our movies the mysterious experience of being alive. These Amazing Shadows shows us how movies are part of our history, part of our culture… and part of ourselves.

More on Film


Paul Mariano: “About three years a go, I read a newspaper story about the National Film Registry and the Librarian of Congress’ selection of twenty-five films for that list. I had been unaware of the Registry and its importance to American film. What was most startling was the statement by the Librarian that 50% of all films made in America prior to 1950 no longer existed in any form, and that 80% of all films from the silent era (prior to 1920) were gone forever. Such a loss seemed unimaginable and truly tragic, and started me on this journey.”

Kurt Norton: “When Paul showed me a newspaper article about The National Film Registry I became instantly fascinated because I had never heard of The Registry. I wondered how could I be such a big film fan and have never heard of such an important and, frankly, fun list of America’s most important films. I was drawn to creating a documentary about The National Film Registry because film holds a special place in our culture due to its power to glimpse into our shared dreams, pose important moral questions and reveal what we aspire to be – as a country and as individuals.”

More about Director

Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton

PAUL MARIANO Co-Director/Writer/Producer

Paul was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from the oldest high school in the country, Boston Latin School. After completing his studies at Hastings College of the Law, he practiced as a criminal defense attorney for 27 years. Upon retirement from the Contra Costa County Public Defender Office, he co-founded Gravitas Docufilms. His directorial debut, Also Ran, won the award for Best Political Documentary at the 2006 Atlanta Docufest. His film, Faces of Genocide began the International Citizens’ Tribunal on Sudan, held in New York City on November 13, 2006. The film also showed at the Sarajevo Biennial Meeting of the International Association of Genocide Scholars in June 2007.

KURT NORTON Co-Director/Writer/Producer

Kurt Norton has produced, written and directed numerous shorts. He brings to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, These Amazing Shadows, his second documentary feature in collaboration with co-director, Paul Mariano. He is currently working on a romantic comedy feature entitled, The Mammoth Falls. He is also a licensed private investigator specializing in death penalty cases. His mother, Audree Norton, was the first Deaf actor on American network television with her featured appearance on the CBS show, Mannix, in 1968.

Festivals & Awards

2011 Lucerne International Film Festival, Switzerland

2011 Louisville International Film Festival, USA
Won Best Documentary Award

2011 Indianapolis International Film Festival, USA
Selected as Closing Night Film

2011 Aspen International Film Festival, USA
Selected as Opening Night Film

2011 Seattle International Film Festival, USA

2011 Stony Brook Film Festival, USA

2011 Sedona International Film Festival, USA

2011 White Sands International Film Festival, USA

2011 Savannah International Film Festival, USA

2011 Port Townsend International Film Festival, USA

2011 Tacoma International Film Festival, USA

2011 Prescott International Film Festival, USA

2011 Indie Memphis International Film Festival, USA

2011 St. Louis International Film Festival, USA

2011 Sundance Film Festival, USA

2011 Boulder International Film Festival, USA

2011 Cleveland International Film Festival, USA

2011 Ashland Independent Film Festival, USA

2011 Newport Beach Film Festival, USA

2011 Tiburon International Film Festival, USA

Press & Reviews

"Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton's inspiring documentary makes an illuminating case for the National Film Registry as America's time capsule and family album."
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"These Amazing Shadows is a fascinating documentary revolving around the National Film Registry. …The end result is a briskly-paced and thoroughly captivating documentary that instantly establishes itself as a must-see for film buffs, though it's clear that even casual moviegoers will find plenty here worth  embracing."David Nusair, REEL FILM REVIEWS

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"Although the documentary has the benefit of being able to create film-montages to end all film-montages, it digs deeper, asking what exactly it means to preserve films, and what the movies we choose to remember say about our national consciousness. The notion of cinema as collective memory/dreams is best encapsulated by the interview subjects who responds to the question "Why preserve films at all?" with the retort "Why do you preserve family photographs?"John Lopez, VANITY FAIR

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"These Amazing Shadows is the cinematic equivalent of talking movies with your fellow film-lovers. Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton's documentary jumps around excitedly as it points out great films that are in the National Film Registry, but it goes far beyond the popular stuff like Star Wars and Blazing Saddles.Matt Goldberg, COLLIDER.COM

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"These Amazing Shadows is a class act, with dozens of incisive (and uniformly well-lit) interviews with producers, directors, archivists, academics and film historians." 

David Leitner, STUDIO DAILY
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"Beloved classics loom large, but filmmakers Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton push successfully beyond the bounds of sentimentality to delve deep into the Library of Congress film archives and National Film Registry politics."21TELEGRAPH.COM

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"Simply put, this is a film that will make any film geek swoon, and will hopefully make a film geek out of anyone else."Joshua Brusting, GORDONANDTHEWHALE.COM 

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"Altogether, the registry has compiled an impressive collection. As Librarian of Congress James H. Billington proudly notes, Taken together, the films in the National Film Registry represent a stunning range of American filmmaking - all deserving recognition, preservation and access by future generations."
Chris Robinson, DESERET NEWS
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"Every film festival needs a selection that reminds audiences why they love movies. With clips and revealing interviews, Kurt Norton and Phil Mariano's documentary tells the story of the creation of the Library of Congress' National Film Registry."
Lisa Kennedy, DENVER POST
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