Exhibition Reel of Two Color Film (ca. 1929)

An experimental color short in Brewster Color, preserved by George Eastman House and presented on the More Treasures DVD set.


Contact: Annette Melville (415-392-7291, melville@filmpreservation.org)

San Francisco, CA (November 2, 2010)—Thanks to a grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Film Preservation Foundation will complete the assessment of early American nitrate films held by the New Zealand Film Archive, in Wellington, N.Z. During a five-week research foray scheduled for later this year, the NFPF’s expert, Leslie Lewis, will examine some 80,000 feet of nitrate film from the 1910s and 1920s, looking for rare works to return to the United States for preservation. The fieldwork is being undertaken at the invitation of the New Zealand Film Archive.

This second round of research follows on the heels of the NFPF’s earlier campaign, completed this past spring, which resulted in the discovery of Upstream (1927), a full-length feature by four-time Academy Award winning director John Ford. Among the other finds were Maytime (1923), an early feature with Clara Bow; the earliest extant narrative shot in Yosemite; comic shorts starring Charles Puffy, Snub Pollard, and Joe Murphy; and other culturally significant but long forgotten works showcasing women filmmakers and regional production companies. The reports filed by NFPF researchers enabled archivists and scholars to determine which titles were in sufficiently good condition to preserve. Of the 75 films selected for repatriation and preservation, some 90% are thought to survive in no other copies. The NFPF’s initial research trip was also funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“While unlikely to turn up discoveries of the caliber of Upstream,” said Professor Richard Abel (University of Michigan), one of the scholars advising the NFPF, “this second round of fieldwork may uncover missing pieces of incomplete films already archived in the United States, important non-fiction footage, ‘lost’ single-reel story films, and other rarities. The good news for scholars and teachers is that every film repatriated through this project will be preserved and accessible at an American archive. Many will also be available on the NFPF Web site.”

The preservation work on the films repatriated earlier in 2010 has already started, under the supervision of the American archives collaborating with the NFPF: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The New Zealand Film Archive, whose good stewardship is making the project possible, will also receive prints of the preserved films. The undertaking is being coordinated by the NFPF, which is raising funds for the preservation work.

Only a fraction of the American films created during the first four decades of the motion picture still survive in the United States—about 20%. American silent films, however, had a worldwide audience, and many works discarded in the United States survive abroad as distribution prints that were scooped up decades ago at the end of theatrical runs. The Library of Congress has estimated that roughly one-third of complete American silent-era features that survive are found in unique copies held abroad.

The New Zealand Film Archive / Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua (www.filmarchive.org.nz), an independent trust established in 1981, preserves and protects hundreds of thousands of moving images documenting New Zealand, from its first movies to contemporary television and cutting edge avant-garde.

The National Film Preservation Foundation (www.filmpreservation.org) is the nonprofit charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Since starting operations in 1997, the NFPF has helped save more than 1,700 films at archives, libraries, and museums across 48 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.