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Lumière Festival: ’Gertie the Dinosaur,’ ‘Professor Balthazar’ Reanimated After Restorations

Lumière Festival focuses restoration panel on a legendary early American animation gem,and a Croatian classic

LYON, France — The Lumière Film Festival’s International Classic Film Market put the spotlight on conservation and restoration of classic animated films on Wednesday, offering an examination of both the challenges and opportunities for cinematheques, private companies and other rights holders.

Marco de Blois, artistic director, programmer and curator at Quebec’s Cinémathèque Québécoise, presented two high-profile shorts that had long been thought lost but whose restoration he is now overseeing: the original versions of Winsor McCay’s 1914 “Gertie the Dinosaur” and Norman McLaren’s 1942 “Hen Hop.”

A version of “Gertie the Dinosaur” released in late 1914 still exists and is known as the first animated film to not only feature a dinosaur but also a character that exhibited diverse emotions.

McCay, however, had used an earlier version of the short with additional scenes in front of a live audience as part of his vaudeville act in which he interacted with Gertie. A 1913 issue of Variety carried an ad for the stage show. This version was thought lost after McCay edited it for the later theatrical release.

“It’s a masterpiece of American animation that has been selected by the Library of Congress as a work considered culturally and historically significant,” De Blois said.

The Cinémathèque Québécoise found the missing scenes and is putting the original version back together, “giving back life to this first version,” de Blois added.

The goal of the project is build a definitive, reconstituted version of the film McCay used in his interactive stage performances, in which Gertie also bowed to the audience. The Cinémathèque is making high-definition scans of obtained film material and will also commission artists to duplicate drawings that have been lost.

The restored version will include a new film score and a distribution plan is being drawn up that should be in place by next year.

As for “Hen Hop,” the original version disappeared in 1945 but the Cinémathèque rediscovered parts of the drawn-on-film animated short that had been cut. The scenes presented at the International Classic Film Market marked the first time they had been shown since McClaren cut them out in 1945.

During the Q&A discussion, Predrag Radanovic of Rome-based DVDLab, who is attending the market as a visitor, shared his story of restoring the 50-year-old classic Croatian series “Professor Balthazar,” which proved a huge success for his company as well as for Zagreb Film, which produced the series from 1967 to 1977.

Radanovic initially acquired Italian rights to the property, about an ingenious inventor, and commissioned another Italian lab to restore it, but after being disappointed with the result, he decided to restore it himself. The process of digitizing the series included searching 400 kilos of negatives, positives and additional materials for the best copies. He then presented the first episode at Rai’s Cartoons on the Bay event in Salerno, where the Italian broadcasting group immediately snapped it up.

“That acquisition covered all my expenses,” Radanovic told Variety.

He went on to sell the newly restored HD version of the series to a slew of international markets, including Germany, where it was picked up by broadcaster WDR, Scandinavia, Portugal and South Korea.

“On the same day I sold it to Israel and to Iran,” Radanovic added, explaining: “The guy from Israel was in front of me and I received a call from Iran for DVD rights. I told him with whom I was talking and he said, ‘You see, that Professor Balthazar is so universal that he unites people.’”

Created by Zlatko Grgić, “Professsor Balthazar” was also seen in the United States from 1971 to 1973 as part of the ABC children’s program “Curiosity Shop,” produced by Chuck Jones.

DVDLab has also restored two animated features by Italian animation director Bruno Bozzetto, the 1965 Western spoof “West and Soda” and the 1968 superhero satire “Vip, mio fratello superuomo” (VIP: My Brother Superman).

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