The American partnership with EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam will preserve and make available more than 50 rare films from its extensive early cinema collection. The project began with a generous invitation from EYE to survey the unpreserved American nitrate prints in its vaults. With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NFPF sent Leslie Lewis, the seasoned researcher from the New Zealand Project, to the Netherlands to assess which titles might be the most valuable to save. She examined 206,000 feet of film over two months of fieldwork in spring 2013.
Working closely with Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi of EYE and a team of American archivists, Leslie identified dozens of fascinating American titles that have been unseen by the public in decades. Among the one-of-a-kind prints were Fifty Million Years Ago (1925), using animation to tell the story of evolution; Flaming Canyons (1929), a stencil-colored tour of new national parks in the Southwest; an industrial film from the 1910s showcasing the community projects of the National Tube Company, a founder of U.S. Steel; Fine Paper (ca. 1917) demonstrating how Strathmore made its celebrated rag writing paper; short comedies featuring Mickey Rooney, Oliver Hardy, and Chester Conklin; Happy Hooligan and Koko the Clown cartoons; the only known work from the Detroit-based Esperanto Film Manufacturing Company; The Reckless Age (1924), a flapper feature starring Reginald Denny; and the crime melodrama For the Defense (1922), with ZaSu Pitts.
In late 2013, the first batch of films were shipped to the United States for preservation at Colorlab, under the direction of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, the Library of Congress, and the National Museum of American History. The Oregon Historical Society joined the group to save The Snows of Many Years (1917), a documentary exploring the state’s largest glacier. As part of the preservation process, the Dutch-language intertitles will be translated back into English. When work is completed, the American archives will take custody of the new digital scans, 35mm masters, prints, and access copies. EYE, whose public-spirited stewardship set the stage for the collaboration, will also receive new prints and digital copies, thus ensuring that the titles are available for screening and research on both continents. A generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will fund the preservation and web presentation of the nonfiction films. The NFPF, which is coordinating and raising matching funds for the undertaking, plans to post copies for streaming. Please visit our EYE Project screening room to enjoy the films that have been preserved so far.