New Zealand Project
Completed in 2013, the New Zealand Project was a multi-year collaboration of the New Zealand Film Archive / Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua, the American archival community, and the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve and make available American silent films from the NZFA’s vaults. When the project started in 2009, the NZFA reported having so many nitrate exhibition prints that it was impractical to ship them all to the United States for film-to-film preservation. With grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NFPF sent nitrate experts Leslie Lewis and Brian Meacham to New Zealand identify the titles and assess which might be the most valuable to preserve.
The first round of fieldwork, completed in spring 2010, uncovered astonishing treasures. Heading the list were Upstream (1927), a comedy directed by John Ford and long assumed to be lost; the first surviving film directed by and starring Mabel Normand; several reels of Maytime (1923), with Clara Bow; the earliest surviving feature from Columbia Pictures; the first existing narrative shot in Yosemite; and the only known fiction feature showcasing the Miller Brothers’ Wild West Show of Oklahoma.
During the final research trip, completed in December 2010, Leslie checked through every foot of nitrate film remaining in the American collection and arranged to ship back more, bringing the total to 176 titles. The most surprising find was The White Shadow (1924), the earliest surviving feature with Alfred Hitchcock credits. Lacking opening credits, the nitrate print bore the logo of its Hollywood distributor Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises and had been assumed to be American. For the story of its discovery, click here.
The five major American silent film archives—the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and UCLA Film & Television Archive—supervised the preservation work and took custody of the nitrate originals, as well as the new preservation masters and prints. The NZFA, whose generosity has made the project possible, received new prints.
The NFPF coordinated and raised funds for the undertaking and produced a DVD of 13 major discoveries. A preview of the Treasures New Zealand DVD can be seen here.
The NFPF is also posting digital files for many titles in the web exhibition: Lost and Found—New Zealand. More than 40 films are already available, all with new film notes. Check back for more in the coming weeks.