Monday 7 June 2010

Early John Ford film amongst those found at the New Zealand Film Archive

I was directed to an interesting article in the New York Times via the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) mailing list. For anyone interested in the preservation of films and film-related material I would highly recommend joining this. I know there's a huge amount of mailing lists out there but this one is really worth it. There are always interesting and lively discussions about developments in film preservation, enquiries from film researchers looking for help finding particular films or information about the films, and news of interesting developments, like the link to this article in the New York Times.

A large number of early American films held in the New Zealand Film Archive are now to be returned to America when it emerged that in some cases they were the only surviving print of the film. 75 of these films, chosen for their historical and cultural importance, are now in the process of being returned to the US. The reason so many foreign films remained in New Zealand after their use in cinemas is due to the high cost of shipping them back.

Of particular interest is the discovery of the only print of Upstream a John Ford film from 1927. This film is being copied to modern safety stock before being transferred back to the US as it is the only copy and they do not want to rick any loss or damage to the print. In About John Ford Lindsay Anderson mentions this film, listing it in Ford's filmography, but there is no mention of it in the book or the index - presumably because there was no possible way of viewing a print of the film. It's amazing to think that all these years later we're going to be able to see it again.

The New York Times article discusses the practicalities of moving, and preserving the films, so I'll include an extract from that article here -

Getting the films, which were printed on the unstable, highly inflammable nitrate stock used until the early 1950s, to the United States hasn’t been easy. “There’s no Federal Express for nitrate out of New Zealand,” said Annette Melville, the director of the foundation. “We’re having to ship in UN-approved steel barrels, a little bit at a time. So far we’ve got about one third of the films, and preservation work has already begun on four titles.”

As the films arrive, they are placed in cold storage to slow further degeneration. “We’re triaging the films,” Ms. Melville said, “so we can get to the worst case ones first. About a quarter of the films are in advanced nitrate decay, and the rest have good image quality, though they are badly shrunken.”

As funds permit, the repatriated films will be distributed among the five major nitrate preservation facilities in the United States — the Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the U.C.L.A Film & Television Archive and the Museum of Modern Art — where the painstaking work of reclaiming images from material slowly turning to muck will be performed.

I like that the reason the films came to light was because Brian Meacham, who works at the Film Archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, went to visit the New Zealand Film Archive when he was on holiday! Is that something a lot of archivists do, visit archives in their holidays? I know I do and it's good to know I'm not alone in this!


  1. I think that archivists are probably the worst offenders re 'busman's holidays'!

  2. Yes, I reckon it's a good thing though as it shows a love for the profession - or at least an obsession with it, hmmn, maybe not so healthy!