Dick Houston Biography / Safari Museum Film Preservation Projects

This April, Dick Houston will be in Chanute to present introductions to our feature films and give a talk about his ongoing projects with the Safari Museum and EleFence International, a conservation organization he founded. Below is a biography of Dick with highlights of the film preservation project he’s working with the museum on right now.

Dick Houston sepia and burned

Dick Houston is president of Elefence International, a USA-based non-profit foundation committed to on-the-ground elephant preservation projects in Zambia and Zimbabwe.  To learn more about Elefence, please click here.

Dick has spent most of his adult life in Africa as an elephant conservationist, writer, and safari operator — including leading overland safaris through the jungles of central Africa and across the Sahara Desert.

As a kid in the 1950s, Dick was first inspired about running safaris by watching re-runs of Martin and Osa Johnson films at a local theater in his hometown Ashtabula, Ohio. Decades later, in the 1960s and 70’s, he retraced many of the Johnsons’ old safari tracks in Tanzania, the Congo — and at the Johnsons’ favorite filming location at Lake Paradise in northern Kenya.

Dick’s passion for the Johnson movie legacy inspired him to spearhead a film preservation project initiated by The Martin & Osa Johnson Safari Museum in the early 1990s. The project was to survey the staggering amount of Martin Johnson film footage – over 140 miles of it! – stored in a huge vault at The Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center.

The year-long project resulted in uncovering rare one-of-a-kind moving images of Africa’s and Asia’s vanished cultures, “live” soundtrack capturing ethnic languages, dance, and music, pioneering modes of travel by Sikorsky amphibious aircraft, Nile steamers, camel caravans across Africa’s deserts, canoes up Borneo’s jungle rivers — reflecting the romance of exploration that has long since vanished.

The thousands of feet of Johnson film will eventually be preserved for future generations to see – a motion picture legacy that captured Africa’s magnificent landscapes, its ethnic history, and its unspoiled wildlife before modern-day development obliterated the continent’s then pristine world.

The Safari Museum’s project at The Library of Congress has now inspired another Museum preservation endeavor called the 8 /16mm Film Project. When Dick operated safaris before the 1980s, he shot hundreds of feet of Super 8mm film that recorded Africa’s last steam train journeys across the Rift Valley, steam boats across Lake Victoria, ancient safari trails before they were paved, classic colonial hotels before they were demolished – and of pioneering game wardens such as Born Free legend George Adamson, and his landmark work with lions in Kora Reserve, Kenya.

The Safari Museum’s 8/16 Film Project is now on a mission to seek, find, and preserve amateur 8mm/16mm films – made before 1980 — that recorded a bygone world of travel and adventure in the tradition of Martin and Osa Johnson.