Washington University Teams with Crawford Media to Bring 'Eyes on the Prize' to Digital Age

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Previously unseen and inaccessible footage from the award-winning documentary series, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, will soon be available to all, thanks to a collaboration between Washington University Film & Media Archive and Crawford Media Services. This project will involve the digitization and audio synching of nearly 95 hours of raw interviews from the acclaimed series.

“The Eyes on the Prize Interview Digitization and Reassembly Project will make available the rare, complete interviews, including never-before-seen segments,” said Nadia Ghasedi, Head of the Visual Media Research Lab at Washington University. “More than 20 years after the broadcast of the series, it remains the definitive work on the Civil Rights Movement. By making these resources readily available, we are widening channels of historical and cultural significance.”

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After a previous initiative that made searchable interview transcripts of the series available, the University’s Film & Media Archive realized the value of making the complete dialogue accessible. The film was previously transferred to a more stable polyester-based stock with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and, more recently, a proposal to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s Digital Dissemination of Historical Records program was accepted for digitization, for which the University commissioned Crawford Media Services. For its part, Crawford will scan the hours of 16 mm film footage to preservation quality files and digitize the original audio elements.

“Crawford Media Services is honored for the opportunity to help bring these materials to light. The civil rights struggle was the defining chapter of US history in the second half of the 20th century and it continues its path to resolution even now,” said Steve Davis, Crawford Executive VP and CTO. “First hand accounts of the motivations, personal exchanges, and outcomes of the civil rights movement have extraordinary historical and cultural value. Eyes on the Prize is the definitive audiovisual account of that movement, produced at possibly the earliest moment when actual participants could look back with some perspective. Bringing old Nagra reels, mag sound rolls and camera negative back from the past is the reason we have collected legacy equipment and maintained the knowledge of techniques that are now obsolete.”

Upon digitization of the assets by Crawford, Washington University will reassemble the interviews by synching the video and audio files and reincorporating portions of the interviews that were omitted from the final programs. Completed interviews will then be made accessible, along with other resources, through the University’s digital gateway.