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: David Wells (415-392-7291, wells@filmpreservation.org)

San Francisco, CA (March 30, 2014)—EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam and the San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation today announced a partnership to preserve and make available dozens of early American films that have been unseen anywhere in decades.

Among the one-of-a-kind prints slated for preservation are Fifty Million Years Ago (1925), an animated introduction to the theory of evolution; Flaming Canyons (1929), a tour of national parks in the Southwest; short comedies featuring Mickey Rooney, Oliver Hardy, and Chester Conklin; Happy Hooligan and Koko the Clown cartoons; the only known work from the Esperanto Film Manufacturing Company of Detroit; The Reckless Age (1924), a flapper feature starring Reginald Denny; and the crime melodrama For the Defense (1922), with ZaSu Pitts. The first 26 films are already in the laboratory queue; more will follow in the months ahead.

The titles were identified at EYE during two months of research funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The highly flammable nitrate prints were distributed in the Netherlands in the 1910s and 1920s and eventually made their way into the EYE collections. Many are tinted. All are thought to be unique or the best surviving source material reported anywhere in the world.

“It is thrilling to see nonfiction taking center stage in this groundbreaking collaboration,” said Professor Rick Prelinger of UC Santa Cruz and author of The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. “Movies like The Last Word in Chickens and From Ore to Finished Product were usually thrown out after serving their purpose. Through this international effort, they will live on as a tantalizing glimpse of American industries as they were decades ago.”

Over the next three years, the works will be preserved to 35mm film and made publicly available through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Library of Congress. The Oregon Historical Society will join the group to save The Crystal Ascension, a 1920s documentary exploring the state’s largest glacier. Copies will also be given to EYE and streamed from the NFPF website. The preservation for the nonfiction films will be made possible through a just-announced National Endowment for the Humanities grant, which also provides support to make the works available on the NFPF website. The NFPF is now seeking matching funds to complete the project.

Only a fraction of the American motion pictures created during the first decades of the movie industry still survive in the United States—probably fewer than 20%. Phenomenally popular, American silent films circulated around the world, and some titles that were discarded at home survive overseas as distribution prints salvaged by collectors. The Library of Congress has estimated that roughly one-third of complete American silent-era features that still exist are found only in archives abroad. About shorter films, even less is known.

“EYE is delighted to be part of this project and to premiere the first films saved through this partnership on Sunday, March 30, as part of the second anniversary celebrations for our new building,” said Frank Roumen, who directs film collection and research at EYE. “More screenings are sure to come as the treasures preserved through this Dutch-American collaboration reach the public.”

EYE Filmmuseum (www.eyefilm.nl/en) is home to one of Europe’s most extensive cinema collections. The star in its crown is the early films, posters, and records from Jean Desmet, which have been recognized as a cultural treasure by UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. EYE hosts a year-round program of screenings, exhibitions, and film-related events in its landmark building on Amsterdam’s north bank of the river IJ. EYE streams many early films from its Open Beelden website.

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 some 2,100 films at archives, libraries, and museums across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia and through partnerships with the Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive, the New Zealand Film Archive, and EYE Filmmuseum. The NFPF makes films available through its website and award-winning Treasures DVD series.

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