Australia brings silent classics to U.S.

Return of features part of new partnership

The Australian government is announcing the return of eight short, silent-era films to the U.S. as part of a new partnership to preserve American filmmaking history.

The shorts, none of which are in any U.S. archive, are “important missing links in early film history,” according to the Australian Ministry of Culture. They date from between 1912 and 1927.

“Newsreels, documentaries, trailers, and Hollywood promotional films which filled out theater programs and were widely seen by audiences in the United States and Australia are represented,” the ministry announced.

The partnership, called Film Connection: Australia-America, joins together the National Film and Sound Archive — Australia and the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Foundation. They will work together with the five leading American silent film archives: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Aussie officials will send the nitrate films to a restoration laboratory in Holland, where they will be scanned into digital files.

“The Americans will make any necessary digital corrections and return the files to (the Dutch lab) for outputting to 35mm film and color tinting,” the announcement said. “At the end of the process, the nitrate will be returned to the NFSA — Australia, along with new exhibition prints; the preservation masters and a second set of exhibition prints will be shipped to America. The NFPF will coordinate the project.”

The ministry of culture did not make clear when exactly the process would begin.

“This pilot project is a significant step in the right direction,” said Peter Garrett, the Aussie culture minister and former frontman for the rock band Midnight Oil. “Let’s hope it builds a path to wider international collaboration,” he added.

According to the NFPF, American silent films had a worldwide audience, “and many works discarded by their producers survive abroad as prints salvaged decades ago at the end of theatrical runs. The Library of Congress has estimated that roughly one-third of American silent-era features that survive in complete form exist only in archives outside the United States.”

Probably fewer than 20% of all U.S. films made in the first four decades of moviemaking still survive in the U.S, the NFPF said.

The titles are “The Prospector” (1912), a one-reel Western made by Essanay Film Manufacturing; “Sin Woman,” trailer (1921), a preview for a melodrama; “Mutt and Jeff: On Strike” (1920), an animated short of the popular cartoon characters; and “Long Pants,” trailer (1927), a preview for Frank Capra’s comedy starring Harry Langdon.

The other four shorts are a 1920 Pathe newsreel, a U.S. Navy documentary, a travel tour of Japan and an early Hollywood promotional short of movie celebs playing baseball.

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