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Orphan film

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For the 2009 film, see Orphan.

An orphan film is a motion picture work that has been abandoned by its owner or copyright holder; also, any film that has suffered neglect.



The exact origin of the term orphan film is unclear. By the 1990s, however, film archivists were commonly using this colloquialism to refer to motion pictures abandoned by their owners. Before the end of the decade, the phrase emerged as the governing metaphor for film preservation, first in the United States, then internationally.[1]


Historians and archivists define the term in both a narrow and a broad sense. A report from the Librarian of Congress, Film Preservation 1993, offered a first definition. As a category of so-called orphan works, orphan films are those “that lack either clear copyright holders or commercial potential” to pay for their preservation.[2] However, a much wider group of works fall under the orphan rubric when the term is expanded to refer to all manner of films that have been neglected. The neglect might be physical (a deteriorated film print), commercial (an unreleased movie), cultural (censored footage) or historical (a forgotten World War I-era production).

This broader conception is typically illustrated by a list of orphaned genres. In Redefining Film Preservation: A National Plan (1994),[3] the Librarian of Congress enumerated newsreels, actuality footage, silent films, experimental works, home movies, independent fiction and documentary films, political commercials, amateur footage, along with advertising, educational and industrial films as culturally significant orphans. To this the National Film Preservation Foundation adds animation, ethnic films, anthropological footage, and fragments. (See "What Are Orphan Films".)

Within a decade the epithet was adopted by scholars and educators. In The Film Experience: An Introduction (2004), for example, Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White include a section on orphan films, defining them simply as "Any sort of films that have survived but have no commercial interests to pay the costs of their preservation." [4]

Defined in this way, more films are orphans than not. Many are more accurately described as “footage,” recordings shot on celluloid but not intended to be completed works or theatrical releases. The millions of feet of home movies and newsreel outtakes alone outnumber the quantity of film stock used to make all of the feature films ever released by Hollywood studios.

Orphan film movement

The resurgent interest in these films is due to their rich value as cultural and historical artifacts. Documentarians, filmmakers, historians, curators, collectors and scholars have joined forces with archivists because they deem orphans not only historical documents, but also evidence of alternative, suppressed, minority or forgotten histories.

Since 1999, hundreds of these devotees have gathered for the biennial Orphan Film Symposium. In 2001, members of these professions began referring to an “orphan film movement.” As archivist-scholar Caroline Frick has written, some of the most active participants identify themselves as “orphanistas,” passionate advocates for saving, studying and screening neglected cinema. In 2004, visual anthropologist Emily Cohen wrote that the movement's creative and intellectual ferment constituted an “Orphanista Manifesto.” [5] More pragmatically, in the United States the group's rising influence affected discourse and policies about copyright reform, joining the broader media reform movement. Examples of this include the 2003 Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft and the 2006 Copyright Office Report on Orphan Works. In September 2008, the U.S. Senate passed a bill (S.2913) "to provide a limitation on judicial remedies in copyright infringement cases involving orphan works," but the House of Representatives adjourned before addressing the measure. Similar legislation is scheduled to be reintroduced in 2009.

Although U.S. copyright stakeholders confine their discussion to the narrower definition of an orphan (a work with no identifiable rights holder), the broader conception—an orphan film as a neglected object—continues to be used internationally. Film archivists working quite separately in different nations have used the orphan metaphor for a decade. At the Cinemateca de Cuba, for example, the term "huérfanos" has been used to conceptualize the lost and abandoned works of Cuban film history, its "huerfanidad." The Nederlands Filmmuseum preserves and programs its "Bits & Pieces" series of unidentified film fragments, its "foundlings." The China Film Archive in Beijing uses a translatable orphan film metaphor as well.[6]

Another indication of the international interest in orphan films was filmmaker Martin Scorsese's announcement of a World Cinema Foundation (WCF) at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Press reports stated that the WCF would preserve "orphan" films. By 2008, however, the WCF's mission statement referred only to "neglected" films rather than orphans, as the foundation helps fund preservation of lesser known theatrical motion pictures, which remain under the legal ownership of some party. World Cinema Foundation

In April 2008, members of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) unanimously endorsed a "Declaration on Fair Use and Access". The ninth of its ten points simply states: "FIAF supports efforts to clarify the legal status of 'orphan' motion pictures and related promotional and historical materials for the purpose of preservation and public access." More recently, on June 4, 2008, the European Union announced the signing of a new "Memorandum of Understanding" on orphan works. The EU's Digital Libraries Initiative produced the statement. Signatories from included the key institutions in moving image archiving and representatives of rights-holders: Association Des Cinematheques Europeennes (ACE), the British Library, European Film Companies Alliance (EFCA), Federation Europeenne Des Realisateurs De L'audiovisuel (FERA), Federation Internationale Des Associations De Producteurs De Films (FIAPF), and the International Federation Of Film Distributors (FIAD).EU Press Release on Orphan Works

See also


  1. Gregory Lukow, "The Politics of Orphanage: The Rise and Impact of the 'Orphan Film' Metaphor on Contemporary Preservation Practice", paper delivered at the University of South Carolina symposium, "Orphans of the Storm: Saving Orphan Films in the Digital Age", September 23, 1999. http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/archive/orphans2001/lukow.html . As early as October 1950 Industrial Marketing magazine referred to 16mm industrial sales movies as orphan films. Restoration expert Robert Gitt was quoted using the metaphor as early as 1992, to refer to silent-era films, newsreels, and kinescopes. Robert Epstein, “Mining Hollywood's Old Movie Gold,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1992, p. F1.
  2. Film Preservation 1993: A Study of the Current State of American Film Preservation: Report of the Librarian Of Congress, by Annette Melville and Scott Simmon, Washington, DC: NFPB/LOC, 1993. http://www.loc.gov/film/study.html
  3. Redefining Film Preservation: A National Plan; Recommendations of the Librarian Of Congress in Consultation with the National Film Preservation Board, coordinated by Annette Melville and Scott Simmon, Washington, DC: NFPB/LOC, 1994. http://www.loc.gov/film/plan.html
  4. Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White, The Film Experience: An Introduction (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004), 391-98. They add to the list of orphaned genres government-produced films, citing What You Should Know about Biological Warfare (1952) This film is viewable as a digital file at http://www.archive.org/details/WhatYouS1952 as part of the Prelinger Collection of “ephemeral films.” Collector-activist Rick Prelinger is one of the people most responsible for raising awareness of orphan films.
  5. Caroline Frick, Restoration Nation: Motion Picture Archives and 'American' Film Heritage, PhD diss. University of Texas at Austin, 2005, UT Austin library PDF; Emily Cohen, “The Orphanista Manifesto: Orphan Films and the Politics of Reproduction,” American Anthropologist (December 2004), 719-31.
  6. Dan Streible, "The Role of Orphan Films in the 21st Century Archive," Cinema Journal 46.3 (Spring 2007): 124-28.
  • Boyle, James, et al. Access to Orphan Films, submission to the Copyright Office, from the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University Law School, March 2005.
  • Cherchi Usai, Paolo. "What Is an Orphan Film? Definition, Rationale, Controversy." Paper delivered at the symposium "Orphans of the Storm: Saving Orphan Films in the Digital Age", University of South Carolina, September 23, 1999. Transcript at http://www.sc.edu/filmsymposium/archive/orphans2001/usai.html
  • Cherchi Usai, Paolo. "Are All (Analog) Films 'Orphans'? A Pre-digital Appraisal," The Moving Image 9.1 (2009): 1-18.
  • Coffey, Liz. “Orphans of the Storm III: Listening to Orphan Films,” The Moving Image 3.2 (Fall 2003): 128–32.
  • Cullum, Paul. “Orphanistas! Academics and Amateurs Unite to Save the Orphan Film,” L.A. Weekly, Apr. 26, 2001.
  • Fishman, Stephen. The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-free Writing, Music, Art, & More, 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: Nolo, 2006.
  • Horak, Jan-Christopher. “Editor's Introduction,” The Moving Image 6.2 (2006), vi-viii.
  • Horak, Jan-Christopher. “The Strange Case of The Fall of Jerusalem: Orphans and Film Identification,” The Moving Image 5.2 (2005), 26-49.
  • Libby, Jenn. "Foundling Films: Orphans 5: Science, Industry and Education", Afterimage (May/June 2006), 11.
  • Longo, Regina. “Fifth Orphan Film Symposium: Science, Industry, and Education,” The Moving Image 7.1 (Spring 2007): 92–94;
  • Orgeron, Devin. “Orphans Take Manhattan: The 6th Biannual Orphan Film Symposium,” Cinema Journal 48, no.2 (Winter 2009): 114–18.
  • “‘Orphan Films’ Course to Screen Eight Neglected Works at Guild,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 23, 1979.
  • Prelinger, Rick. The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. San Francisco: National Film Preservation Foundation, 2006.
  • Prelinger, Rick, with Raegan Kelly. “Panorama Ephemera,” Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular, vol. 2.
  • Streible, Dan. “The Role of Orphan Films in the 21st Century Archive,” Cinema Journal 46, no.3 (Spring 2007): 124–28.
  • Streible, Dan. "The State of Orphan Films: Editor's Introduction," The Moving Image 9.1 (2009): vi-xix.
  • Ziebell Mann, Sarah. “A Meditation on the Orphan, via the University of South Carolina Symposium,” AMIA Newsletter 47 (Winter 2000), 30, 33.

External links

Orphan (film)

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Theatrical poster
Directed byJaume Collet-Serra
Produced byJoel Silver
Susan Downey
Leonardo DiCaprio
Jennifer Davisson Killoran
Written byStory:
Alex Mace
David Leslie Johnson
StarringVera Farmiga
Peter SarsgaardJimmy Bennett >Isabelle Fuhrman<(Aryana Engineer CCH Pounder
Music byJohn Ottman
CinematographyJeff Cutter
Editing byTimothy Alverson
StudioDark Castle Entertainment
Appian Way Productions
Distributed byUSA/International:
Warner Bros.
Optimum Releasing
Release date(s)July 24, 2009 (2009-07-24)
Running time123 min.
CountryUnited States
Gross revenue$62,802,395[1]

Orphan is a 2009 American horror film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, starring Golden Globe-nominees Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard and introducing Isabelle Fuhrman along side long time child actor Jimmy Bennett . The film centers on a couple who, after the death of their unborn child, adopt a mysterious 9-year old girl. Orphan was produced by Joel Silver and Susan Downey of Dark Castle Entertainment and Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran of Appian Way Productions.[2] The film was released theatrically in the United States on July 24, 2009.[3]



Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) are experiencing strains in their marriage after Kate's third child was stillborn. The loss is particularly hard on Kate, who is still recovering from a drinking habit which cost her her job. While visiting the local orphanage, they decide to adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a 9-year-old Russian girl. While Kate and John's daughter Maxine (Aryana Engineer), who is deaf and communicates with sign language, embraces Esther almost immediately, their son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat less welcoming.

Not long after Esther arrives, she pushes a schoolmate, who had picked on her, off a playground slide, breaking her ankle. Max saw Esther shove the girl, but covers for Esther by saying that the girl "slipped." At dinner Daniel is mad and annoyed at Esther, mainly because his friends think she is 'weird' and lets it be known he doesn't consider her to be his sister.

Kate is further alarmed when Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), the head of the orphanage, warns her and John about Esther's tendency to be involved in troublesome situations. Esther overhears this and later kills Sister Abigail by bludgeoning her with a hammer. She forces Max to help her hide the body and the hammer, telling Max she would get into trouble anyway for helping Esther. Daniel sees Esther and Max descending from his treehouse from behind a rock, not knowing they hid the hammer there. Later that night, Esther holds a razor to Daniel's throat and crotch, threatening to cut his genitals off if he tells anyone what he saw.

Kate is told that the Russian orphanage Esther came from has no record of her ever being there. However, John does not believe her, despite continued ominous behavior by Esther. At one point, Esther breaks her own arm in John's vise and convinces John that Kate broke it after Esther destroyed the garden grave site of her stillborn child's ashes. When John suggests that Kate spend the night downstairs while Esther stays in the master bedroom, Kate drives out and purchases two bottles of wine. After a struggle, she pours the opened bottle of wine down the drain. On Esther's first day back at school, she slips Kate's SUV into reverse, nearly killing Max. Afterward, John and Kate's psychiatrist confront her with the unopened bottle which Esther had found. They blame the accident on her carelessness because of her hangover.

Kate learns that Esther was housed at a mental institution in Estonia called the Saarne Institute, but when she expresses misgivings to John, he and her counselor think that Kate is relapsing into her drinking habit. After John produces the other bottle Kate bought the night before, he threatens to leave her unless she gets help.

Daniel learns of the hammer from Max and decides to get it and go to the police. However, Esther sets the treehouse on fire. Daniel escapes by falling out of the tree, severely injuring his neck and knocking him unconscious. Esther tries to finish him off by smashing a brick over his head, but Max shoves her out of the way just in time. Daniel is rushed to the hospital. Esther again tries to kill him at the hospital (when she says she is going to get a soda) by unhooking his respirator and attempting to smother him with a pillow, placing him in a near-fatal coma. Doctors rush into the room and manage to save Daniel. Outside, Kate, who is convinced Esther did it, slaps Esther and knocks her down and is quickly subdued and sedated by doctors. Kate wakes up for a moment later on to hear John tell her Daniel will be fine and can probably go back home in a couple of days. He leaves with Esther and Max to go home while Kate slumps into unconsciousness again.

That night, Esther tries to seduce a drunk and dazed John, who drank Kate's last bottle. John reprimands Esther for her inappropriate behaviour and sends her to her room, saying he is unsure about her future in their house. Esther goes upstairs, holding back tears until she reaches her room, then submits to a deep heartbroken crying spell before losing her temper and tearing up her room in a rage. John goes up later to comfort her and discovers her disturbing artwork in her dark, now-ransacked and empty room; shortly thereafter the electricity is shut off. When he goes downstairs to investigate, Esther (who switched off the electricity) catches him from behind and stabs him several times. Then she spots Max watching at the top of the stairs and goes after her, leaving John for dead.

As Kate is coming out of sedation, she gets a call from the Saarne Institute's director, Dr. Värava (Karel Roden), who reveals a terrifying secret. It turns out that Esther isn't a 9-year-old girl at all, but a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer. She has hypopituitarism, a disorder that stunted her physical growth and has resulted in her spending most of her adult life posing as a little girl. Leena has made a habit of moving into families as an adopted "child" and ultimately attempting to seduce the father, whom she kills (along with the rest of the family) after his inevitable rejection. While the audio of Värava and Kate's call is still playing, Esther/Leena sheds her ribbons on her neck and wrists to reveal scars. They are covered with injuries caused by a straitjacket, which the doctors at a mental home kept her in to keep her from harming them. She also has mostly developed breasts, an adult figure, and dentures to cover her adult teeth.

When Kate gets home, she is finally pushed over the edge after discovering John. Kate goes looking for Max and in the process gets shot by Esther/Leena with the revolver she found in the house. Kate finally finds Max while she is on top of the roof of their garden, which is made of glass. She breaks the glass and falls on top of Esther, who was trying to shoot Max. When Esther falls unconscious Kate takes Max and runs away from the house. When the police arrive, Leena disappears. Leena runs after Kate, trying to kill her and Max with a knife. Their chase takes them to a frozen pond, where Kate and Leena struggle on the ice. Max grabs Leena's snubnosed revolver trying to shoot her, but misses, causing the ice to shatter. Leena and Kate fall into the freezing water. Kate crawls out of the hole, followed by Leena. Leena begs for her life and addresses Kate as her mother while hiding a knife behind her back. Kate angrily responds that she is not Leena's mother and violently kicks her in the face. The blow seemingly breaks Leena's neck, causing her to sink back into the pond. The film ends with Kate and Max leaving the pond in a snowstorm. During the credits, brief bits and pieces of Leena's medical records from the Saarne institute are shown.

An alternative ending can be viewed in the special features of the DVD. In this ending, after Kate and Max flee the house, Esther goes upstairs (offscreen), where she puts on her makeup and ribbons just as the police arrive. She comes downstairs looking like a wraith and introduces herself sweetly to the police.


File:Alma 2006.JPG
The real life Alma College in St. Thomas, Ontario, which served as the Saarne Institute in the movie.

The film was shot in Canada, in the cities of Toronto, Port Hope and Montreal.[2]



The film's content, depicting a murderous adopted person, was not well received by the adoption community.[4] The controversy caused filmmakers to change a line in one of their trailers from "It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own," to "I don’t think Mommy likes me very much."[5] Melissa Fay Greene of The Daily Beast commented:
"The movie Orphan comes directly from this unexamined place in popular culture. Esther’s shadowy past includes Eastern Europe (small country named Estonia); she appears normal and sweet, but quickly turns violent and cruel, especially toward her mother. These are clichés. This is the baggage with which we saddle abandoned, orphaned, or disabled children given a fresh start at family life."[6]

The film got some praises for casting with child actor Jimmy Bennett giving an outstanding performance as Daniel Coleman.


Critical reaction to Orphan has been mixed, with the film earning a rating of 55% (43% among the Top Critics) on Rotten Tomatoes,[7] where the consensus is: "While it has moments of dark humor and the requisite scares, Orphan fails to build on its interesting premise and degenerates into a formulaic, sleazy horror/thriller". It also earned a 42 out of 100 on Metacritic.[8] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Orphan 3½ stars out of 4, writing: "You want a good horror film about a child from hell, you got one."[9] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle also gave a positive review, saying: "Orphan provides everything you might expect in a psycho-child thriller, but with such excess and exuberance that it still has the power to surprise."[10]

Todd McCarthy, of Variety, was less impressed, writing: "Teasingly enjoyable rubbish through the first hour, Orphan becomes genuine trash during its protracted second half."[11] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote, "Actors have to eat like the rest of us, if evidently not as much, but you still have to wonder how the independent film mainstays Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard ended up wading through Orphan and, for the most part, not laughing."[12] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D+ score, saying, "Orphan isn't scary — it's garish and plodding."[13]

Openly (and at times vehemently) negative reviews are abundant: from "galling, distasteful trash" (Eric D. Snider)[14] to "old-fashioned and trashy horror flick" (Emanuel Levy)[15] and "relentlessly bad", albeit "entertaining" (Rob Vaux).[16] According to Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews, "The problem with Orphan isn't merely that the film is idiotic--it's that it's also sleazy, formulaic and repellant."[17] And according to Keith Phipps from The A.V. Club, "If director Jaume Collet-Serra set out to make a parody of horror-film clichés, he succeeded brilliantly."[18]

Although the film received mixed reviews, Isabelle Fuhrman's performance was acclaimed and positively received. Emanuel Levy said of Fuhrman "acquites herself with a strong performance, affecting a rather convincing Russian accent and executing sheer evil with an admirable degree of calm and earnestness."[15] Todd McCarthy proclaims that Fuhrman (as well as Bennett and Engineer) is terrific and that she "makes Esther calmly beyond reproach even when faced with monumental evidence against her, and has the requisite great evil eye."[11] Mick LaSalle continues in that Fuhrman "steals the show" and that she "injects nuance into this portrayal, as well as an arch spirit."[10] And as said by Roger Ebert, she "is not going to be convincing as a nice child for a long, long time."[9]

The film was the #4 film at the box office for its opening weekend, making $12.77 million total, behind G-Force, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Ugly Truth respectively. As of September 9, 2009 the film has grossed a total of $53,243,687.[19]

Home media

Orphan was released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 27, 2009 in the US by Warner Home Video. It was released on DVD & Blu-ray in the UK on November 27 by Optimum Releasing.


External links


All translations of Orphan film

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