New Zealand Film Archive

The New Zealand Film Archive was established in 1981. On 1 August 2014 the archive was amalgamated with Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero and the Television New Zealand Archive to form Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

2010 lost film recovery

In 2010, a collection of 75 previously thought to be lost American silent films, were discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive.[1][2] The films dated from 1898 to 1929 and were previously thought to be lost films.[3]

Background and restoration

During the time period that the films were performed films were shipped to countries along a "distribution line" format, with New Zealand often being the last place the films would be shipped. Because of the high cost of transport during this time and the flammability of the early film stock, most of the films would not be shipped back to the United States and were stored into government archives,[3] were destroyed,[4] or were given or sold to private owners.[5]

The films were discovered during the visit of Brian Meacham, a Los Angeles film preservationist, to the archive. Meacham was curious as to what films the archive held, upon which it was discovered that the archive held a large amount of early American films. The New Zealand Film Archive's Steve Russell said "It's one of the rare cases where the tyranny of distance has worked in our and the films' favour".[6]

In order to export the films back to the United States for restoration, the movies have had to be transported in U.N.-approved steel barrels in incremental doses.[7] Many of the films had begun to deteriorate, with film preservationist Annette Melville saying "About a quarter of the films are in advanced nitrate decay and the rest have good image quality, though they are badly shrunken".[8]

Films discovered

Of the 75 films discovered in the New Zealand archive, some of the more notable examples were John Ford's 1927 film Upstream and the 1923 film Maytime.[9] It was also noted by the New York Times that many of the films that were recovered "underline the major contribution made by women to early cinema".[7] Sony has assumed the costs for the restoration of Mary of the Movies.

The Hitchcock film The White Shadow was discovered in the collection,[10] mislabeled as the movie Twin Sisters and lacked a title credit.[11] The discovery of this film was named as one of's "Biggest Surprises of 2011".[12]

American silent films

The archive has many silent American films that had been shipped to New Zealand at the time of their release, but were thought not worth the expense of shipping back to the United States after they ran in theaters.[1] The films were supposed to be destroyed after being sent to New Zealand and seen there at the end of their distribution run, but some were stashed away instead, then later put into the archive. Only about 20 percent of films from the silent era were still in existence as of 2010.[13]

The organisation has a strong commitment to repatriating old films to their country of origin. In 2009, the archive agreed with the (American) National Film Preservation Foundation to repatriate 75 silent American films, all rare or previously thought by American archivists and scholars to be lost (the archive continues to hold many other silent-era American films). About 70 percent of the copies were complete. The films, all on highly volatile and dangerous nitrate stock, were to be shipped back to the United States for restoration and copying, except for Upstream, a 1927 film by John Ford, which was determined to be so precious that transportation could not be risked before it was restored and copied in New Zealand. Other films in the cache include Mary of the Movies (1923), the earliest C.B.C Film Sales (Columbia Pictures) feature film known to have survived,[1] Maytime (1923; starring Clara Bow); the first surviving film Mabel Normand directed (and starred in); an episode of the serial The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies, as well as industrial films, documentaries and newsreels. The agreement to repatriate the films came after an American film preservationist from the Academy Film Archive visited the New Zealand archives while on vacation and began discussing the New Zealand institution's holdings with archivists there.[13]

See also


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