National Archives Unveils Behind-the-Scenes Film: "Preserving the Charters of Freedom"
Press Release · Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Washington, DC

Press Release
August 24, 2004


National Archives Unveils Behind-the-Scenes Film: "Preserving the Charters of Freedom"

Washington, DC. . . On Friday, September 10, 2004, the National Archives in partnership with the PBS science series NOVA will unveil a new film, "Preserving the Charters of Freedom." For the first time, the public will glimpse the behind-the-scenes excitement and drama of the preservation and re-encasement of the Charters of Freedom--The Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution and The Bill of Rights.

This free18-minute film produced by Middlemarch Films for NOVA/WGBH (Boston) and PBS will be shown in the new William G. McGowan Theater which will also open to the public on September 10. The McGowan Theater is located in the National Archives Building, Constitution Avenue, between 7th and 9th Streets, NW. The film will be shown every 30-minutes during public hours. Fall/Winter hours are 10 A.M. - 5 P.M., daily. (Occasional special day-time programs may pre-empt the showing of the film. The public may call 202-501-5000 for exact listings.)

"Preserving the Charters of Freedom" tells the story of the re-encasement and the building of new display cases for these great Charters --the three 18th century documents which are the basis of the creation and government of the United States. They are the most precious original documents in the country, arguably in the world.

What at first seems to be a straight-forward operation, protecting a few pieces of parchment from damage, turns out to be an amazingly complex endeavor involving a large number of people from a variety of disciplines. The conflicting demands of the conservators, used to working with parchment and ancient inks, scientists working with computers and space-age materials, and curators concerned with making these documents accessible to a large public, provides the drama for much of this film. The decisions they reach is a consensus based on knowledge of both the chemistry and physics of preservation and an understanding of a craft as old as civilization itself.

As the scientists struggle with infra-red spectroscopy, argon gas and titanium encasements to freeze the physical documents in time, in the end it is the power of these Charters of Freedom--the words and ideas-- which will withstand the test of time.

In announcing the unveiling of the new film, Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin said, "For the first time we will be able to share with the public the exciting story of how the Charters of Freedom were preserved and re-encased for public display. We are grateful to Middlemarch Films, NOVA, and PBS for their generosity in making this a reality."

"We are extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the National Archives and Middlemarch Films to make this documentary and have it be the first film shown in the new William G. McGowan Theater," said Paula S. Apsell, senior executive producer, NOVA. "NOVA and PBS' goals are to invite its viewers on a journey of discovery and storytelling. I can think of no better story to tell than the preservation of the 'Charters of Freedom'."

"Preserving the Charters of Freedom" which will be shown in the McGowan Theater through February 15, 2005, is based on an hour-long NOVA documentary which is scheduled to air on PBS in February 2005.

"Preserving the Charters of Freedom" has been made possible through the generosity of the following contributors: WGBH Boston, the Park Foundation, Sprint, Microsoft, Middlemarch Films and PBS.

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-501-5526 or 301-837-1700.


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