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Sponsored film, or ephemeral film, as defined by film archivist Rick Prelinger, is a film made by a particular sponsor for a specific purpose other than as a work of art: the films were designed to serve a specific pragmatic purpose for a limited time. Many sponsored/ephemeral films are also orphan works since they lack copyright owners or active custodians to guarantee their long-term preservation.
The genre is composed of advertising films, educational films, industrial videos, training films, social guidance films, and government-produced films. While some may borrow themes from well-known film genres such as western film and comedies, what defines them is a sponsored rhetoric to achieve the sponsor's goals, rather than those of the creative artist.
Sponsored films in 16mm were loaned at no cost, except sometimes postage, to clubs, schools, and other groups. AT&T was for decades one of the most active sponsored film distributors; others included airlines who offered travelogues on their destinations. Local television stations also used them as "filler" programming. Some distributing agents packaged films from various sponsors into TV programs with titles like "Compass," "Color Camera," "Ladies' Day," and "Adventures In Living."
The films are often used as b roll in documentary films, for instance the social guidance film The Terrible Truth (1951, Sid Davis) appears, desaturated, in Ron Mann's Grass (1999) as an example of what he perceives as hysteria over drug abuse, as well as an example of the slippery slope fallacy.
Prelinger and other film archivists[who?] generally consider the films interesting for their sociological, ethnographic, or evidential value: for instance, a mental hygiene film instructing children to be careful of strangers may seem laughable by today's standards, but the film may show important aspects of society which were documented unintentionally: hairstyles, popular fashions, technological advances, landscapes, etc.
Prelinger estimates that the form includes perhaps 400,000 films and, as such, is the largest genre of films, but that one-third to one-half of the films have been lost to neglect. In the late 20th century, the archival moving-image community has taken greater notice of sponsored film, and key ephemeral films began to be preserved by specialized, regional and national archives.
- Prelinger Archives
- Internet Archive: Moving image collection
- Industrial musical
- Non-conventional literature
- Prelinger, Rick (2006), The Field Guide to Sponsored Films, San Francisco, California: National Film Preservation Foundation, retrieved 6 February 2011
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