Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch us on Youtube Join the Archive Mailing List Read our Blog

In Memoriam: Mary Lea Bandy & Peter von Bagh

About the Author

Stacks of archived footage
Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive

In addition to his long career in film archiving and curating, Jan-Christopher Horak has taught at universities around the world. His recent book, Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014) was published by University Press of Kentucky.

"Archival Spaces" Blog - Ithaca College

In the last couple of weeks the film archival community lost two of its greats, Mary Lea Bandy and Peter von Bagh.  Mary Lea was Chief Curator of the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art for more than two decades, while Peter was the former Executive Director of the Finnish Film Archive as well as the Artistic Director of the Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna.  My own relationship with each of them goes back 29 and 36 years, respectively.

I first met Mary Lea at the FIAF Conference in New York in April 1985, but it wasn’t until I joined the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) film panel at the invitation of B. Ruby Rich in 1986, which Mary Lea was chair of, that we became close friends.  Watching countless film clips and reading proposals from filmmakers, I quickly appreciated Mary Lea’s keen intelligence and wit.  I was also very grateful to her for helping me secure funding for a major exhibition I curated at George Eastman House (GEH), Dream Merchants, which eventually travelled to MoMA.  Mary Lea was also incredibly gracious when Martin Scorsese decided to transfer parts of his personal film collection to GEH from MoMA.  Mary Lea was such a bundle of energy and such a good politician, one had to respect her.  She was also extremely witty, so I loved talking to her wherever we would meet.  I last saw her in Paris in 2008, four years after a debilitating illness had robbed her of much of her intellectual power.

Mary Lea Clinton was born in Evanston, Illinois on June 16, 1943.  She got her B.A. in art history from Stanford University in 1966 and soon after went to work for the publishing house Harry N. Abrams, Inc., where she was involved in their art books.  In 1967 she married the artist Gary Bandy, who remained her husband to the end.  She began her career at the Museum of Modern Art in 1973 as an Associate Editor in Publications.  In 1980 she was appointed Director of MoMA’s Film Department, which at the time was a not an uncontroversial decision, given that she didn’t come from a film background.  But Mary Lea guided the department with a sure administrative hand, remaining there until 2005.  She became a major force within FIAF (La Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film) and as a founding member of The Film Foundation archives advisory panel.  She also served as MoMA’s Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs from 1999-2003 and was heavily involved in the Museum’s expansion project.  Apart from her important work supporting independent film at NYSCA, Mary Lea was instrumental in the founding of the Women’s Film Preservation Fund for New York Women in Film & Television.  The French awarded her a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1984 and an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1992, and she was also made an honorary member of FIAF.

The first time I met Peter von Bagh was on the rooftop terrace of a hotel in Brighton, during the legendary 1978 FIAF conference.  The first thing he said to me was: “I have written the only multi-volume history of cinema in Finnish.”  It was a statement that was both bombastic and self-deprecating, and I would soon come to appreciate his dry, ironic, Finnish humor.  What I did not realize until much later was how incredibly productive the man was, as a writer, editor, filmmaker, TV journalist, archive director, festival organizer and film programmer.

The first time I met Peter von Bagh was ... during the legendary 1978 FIAF conference.  The first thing he said to me was: “I have written the only multi-volume history of cinema in Finnish.”  It was a statement that was both bombastic and self-deprecating, and I would soon come to appreciate his dry, ironic, Finnish humor.

Peter von Bagh was born in Helsinki on August 29, 1943.  He graduated from secondary school in 1961 and completed an M.A. in 1970 at the University of Helsinki, while already working at the Finnish Film Archive, which he joined in 1966.  He also started making short films during this period and would continue making films and television shows (writing and directing over 50 productions).  Peter was also an incredibly prolific writer, publishing something like 40 books of non-fiction in Finnish.  However, it was as a film programmer that he had his greatest impact on the archival world.  First, he massively expanded the Finnish Film Archive’s programming from two screenings per week to three per day, giving Helsinki audiences in the 1970s and ‘80s a deeper understanding of the history of world cinema.  In 1986, Peter was one of the co-founders of the Midnight Sun Film Festival, during which Peter hosted two-hour discussions every morning throughout the festival's history.  In 2001, Peter became Artistic Director of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy, which has become the world’s most important festival for film restorations.

I last saw Peter in Italy a couple years ago, but I will always remember our countless discussions about movies. There was virtually no film he had not seen and could speak about without passion.  Both Peter and Mary Lea will be missed.

Read the New York Times obituary for Mary Lea Bandy.