Film Archive receives grant to preserve second film by pioneering Black director Kathleen Collins

  • In a color film still, three young men walk in a line across an overgrown field with trees in the background. The middle one is pushing a wheel barrow.
    Still image from The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy
August 18, 2022

The Yale Film Archive has received a matching grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) to preserve Kathleen Collins’s 1980 short film, The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy. The project “safeguards the legacy of a pioneering African-American filmmaker,” the foundation said in its Aug. 18 announcement.

The award comes as the Film Archive is already working to preserve Losing GroundCollins’s 1982 feature film masterwork. “This means that we will be working to preserve Kathleen Collins’s entire work as a filmmaker this year, the 80th anniversary of her birth,” said Managing Archivist Brian Meacham. 

Collins was a pioneering Black writer and filmmaker whose two films were largely unseen for decades after her death in 1988 at the age of 46. One of the first Black women to direct a narrative feature film, Collins was much admired by her professional peers, but she struggled to get funding and distribution for her work. When she died, she left unpublished screenplays, a stage play, and an unfinished novel.

Born Kathleen Conwell in Jersey City, N.J., in 1942, Collins graduated from Skidmore College, and became interested in cinema while earning a master’s degree in French literature in Paris. She became an editor at NET in New York, began writing screenplays, was a professor of film history and screenwriting at the City College of New York, and worked as an assistant director on Broadway productions. Inspired by one of her students to direct her own film, Collins chose to adapt a book by a friend, Henry H. Roth, called The Cruz Chronicles. With $5,000 she raised from friends and a line of credit at DuArt, she began shooting what was eventually named The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy in 1979.

About the Film

The film tells the story of three young Puerto Rican men whose lives are watched over by the ghost of their father. Brothers Victor, Felipe, and Jose, recent graduates of a local Catholic high school in New York’s Rockland County, decide to stay in the area, counseled by the voice of their father, whom only Victor can hear. The story is an unlikely comedy about the urban-born trio and the magic that ensues when they encounter Miss Malloy, an elderly Irish widow who hires them to do repairs on her home.

The film won first prize at the prestigious Sinking Creek Film Festival (now the Nashville Film Festival), though it did not have a theatrical release, and was only screened for the public a handful of times. Similarly, Collins’s only feature film, Losing Ground (1988)starring Seret Scott and Bill Gunn, won positive attention internationally, but was virtually ignored in the United States. When Losing Ground was re-released in 2015—and hailed by film critics as a long-lost masterpiece—the Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy was included in the disc release.

The preservation project will involve the creation of new analog preservation masters from the film’s original picture negative, as well as a restored soundtrack sourced from the original optical track and magnetic tracks of the film’s score. From these new preservation film elements, new 16 mm screening prints and a new 2K DCP file with restored picture and sound will be created. 

About the Film Archive

The Yale Film Archive is a center of film scholarship and culture at Yale. On the seventh floor of Sterling Memorial Library, the archive includes viewing facilities, a film conservation suite, staff offices, a poster gallery, and sweeping views of campus.

Since formal preservation efforts began in 2008, the archive has received twelve grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation and regularly preserves unique materials which are often shared with leading arts organizations such as the American Film Institute, the Tate Modern, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Formerly known as the Yale Film Study Center, the archive traces its roots back to 1968 when Yale acquired the Griggs Collection of 206 classic films on 16mm. Today, its collection encompasses a growing archive of unique and original 35mm and 16mm films. It also holds a collection spanning the history of cinema from 160 countries, with 40,000 DVDs, more than 4,000 Blu-ray discs, 6,000 VHS tapes, and nearly 3,000 items from the field of television. The archive became part of Yale University Library in 2017.

For More Information

Read the grant announcement from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Read about the Film Archive’s project to preserve Losing Ground, supported by a grant from the Film Foundation with funding from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.   

Contact: Brian Meacham

Photo courtesy of Milestone Films