Lumière Festival: 90% of U.S. Films Shot Before 1914 Have Disappeared, Warns Gaumont President Nicolas Seydoux

90% of U.S. Films Shot Before
Courtesy Lumiere Film Festival

LYON, France — The global market for restored cinema classics is improving, but preservation efforts need to be stepped up before a larger portion  of humanity’s cinematic heritage vanishes, warned Gaumont president Nicolas Seydoux speaking at the Grand Lyon’s Lumière Festival in France dedicated to vintage cinema.

“We estimate that in the U.S. 90% of movies made before 1914 have disappeared,” Seydoux cautioned. “In France we don’t know the amount we’ve lost, but I think the fact we can reproduce them [digitally] gives us new hope,” he added.

French film journalist Fabrice Leclerc in a presentation noted that, by his count, “one fourth of America’s cinematic heritage is now preserved outside the U.S.”

Seydoux pointed out that while in France the prime market for film restoration is television, thanks in part to the proliferation of digital distribution channels “it’s clear today that there are markets for restored films.”

“One of the characteristics of France is that TV broadcasters air restored films, but they demand quality of the highest level, which is great for the audiences,” he noted.

“If we want young generations to watch movies that correspond to the idea that we have of cinema it would be indecent if they are not the same quality as their videogames, which are very good.”

Defending the use of digital restoration methods vis-a-vis working on the original film stock Seydoux said: “I’m sure that if Jean Renoir was around today he would have used them to smooth out some sound snags.”

Gian Luca Farinelli, director of Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna, the prominent film archives known globally as a prime film preservation entity, agreed that digital techniques open up “amazing possibilities.”

While Farinelli lamented that Italy’s pubcaster Rai is not interested in the classics, Cineteca di Bologna is now distributing about ten vintage films a year theatrically in Italy averaging 10,000 tickets per title. Their top earners are Spaghetti Western master Sergio Leone’s so-called “Dollar Trilogy” which was released in local multiplexes.

Bologna’s L’Immagine Ritrovata restoration lab, whose work is eagerly commissioned by major movie classics players in Europe, recently opened a Hong Kong outpost that is a point of entry for vintage Asian cinema gems.

With an annual budget of approximately 3 million euros ($3.3 million), Gaumont has so far restored 400 movies out of its 1,000-title library.




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