LSU Graduate Discovers Lost Mardi Gras Footage

February 15, 2023

Mackenzie Roberts Beasley stands next to equipment she uses to digitize video formats.

2018 LSU graduate Mackenzie Roberts Beasley located missing Mardi Gras footage, tracking it down to Amsterdam. The footage was recently named into the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

– Mackenzie Roberts Beasley.

“I want to save history,” said LSU alumna Mackenzie Roberts Beasley.

Beasley, a Shreveport native and 2018 School of Library & Information Science graduate, helped uncover a piece of Louisiana history – long-lost Mardi Gras footage of the 1898 Rex parade. A family friend, who was the historian for Rex, asked Beasley for help finding any Mardi Gras Rex parade footage. Beasley, an audiovisual archivist, searched through Internet databases and even called friends for help.

"I had to actually ask my friend who was doing a medical residency at Yale, if I could get her login for her library and a particular database, the International Federation of Film Archives. There are only a couple places that have access to it,” Beasley said.

That’s where she discovered the footage was thousands of miles away from New Orleans, in the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

“My educated guess: people would send films all across the world to see, but no one asked for them back. So, somebody who got it, was able to show it in a theater, and then somebody kept it. Most movie companies never thought they would ever have value again. They thought they would be one-hit wonders,” Beasley said. “But I think this film is really important for Louisiana’s identity. It's really part of the culture. What you think of when you hear Louisiana? You think of Mardi Gras.”

While there’s no audio, the footage shows the spectacle of Mardi Gras, with ornate floats and costumes.

“I believe there are less than 500 people who do my job around the world,” Beasley said.

She currently works at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington, D.C., digitizing and reformatting audiovisual material for scholars and researchers.

“If you create a piece of artwork, we don't archive the piece of artwork. We provide everything that the artist did, any renderings up to that point, his own personal collection, things that are half done. So it’s more about the holistic idea of who the person is behind the art,” Beasley said.

Still photo of 1898 Rex parade

Footage from the 1898 Rex parade was discovered by an LSU alumna.

– Eye Filmmuseum. 

Beasley decided she wanted to be a filmmaker when she was six years old. While studying film at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she watched a documentary about the National Film Registry that shifted her focus.

“The movie is called ‘These Amazing Shadows,’ and it’s about the National Film Registry, and that's when I thought film preservation would be really cool. It's stable, it's still working in film, and I love history,” Beasley said.

She continued her education with two Master’s degrees, the first from Columbia University in New York, the second from LSU.

“My dad went to LSU. My grandfather went to LSU. My uncle went to LSU,” Beasley said. “When it came to looking at library science, I knew that LSU was highly ranked in this field, and also a part of my family’s experience. There's a variety of tracks you can take. You can work in libraries, which is your quintessential neighborhood librarian position. There is government records, law librarianship and archival. I went the archival track because that was audio visual.”

Beasley said her archival education and the degree itself are versatile.

“It opens up a lot of different doors. Even if you don't even go into an archive or library specifically, it teaches you how to organize information, which is a crucial skill set, I would say to any job, also, how you provide information to people. There are entire classes on how people find information. I think there's a lot of places that lack that knowledge.”

“People are still making videos to this day and we’re going to get more collections from people who pass away, who have VHS, or other types of video cassettes still in their home. We’re going to get inundated with those items and library science helps you organize it. We ask ourselves, ‘How do we create the metadata to explain what these things are?’ The longevity of having something a bit more versatile is going to also prolong the amount of a career too,” Beasley said.

Full Circle

For Beasley, her love for films came full circle, when the Mardi Gras film she helped discover was named into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry – where her inspiration to become an audiovisual archivist began.

“There are only a few films chosen each year because it's supposed to be a representation of the United States and what's culturally significant,” Beasley said. “This footage, showing New Orleans, is culturally significant and it shows a portion of the United States and how different and unique our story is.”

Watch the parade footage on YouTube.