Nestled in a former theater whose facade was sculpted by Auguste Renoir, the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé is dedicated to the preservation, restoration and promotion of film heritage belonging to historical French production company and exhibitor Pathé.

Named after the company’s co-chairman, Jérôme Seydoux, the institution is a nonprofit organization founded in 2006. Designed by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, the shell-shaped building opened to the public in 2014 and is home to the only cinema theater in France dedicated to silent movies. Two films are screened there every day to live music.

“When we received Pathé’s silent movie catalog in 2015, my husband and I decided to show these movies from around the world because we believe very strongly in the transmission of film heritage,” says the foundation’s president, Sophie Seydoux, the wife of Jérôme.

The foundation also houses 125 years of historical archives, including thousands of posters, catalogs and movie scripts, millions of photographs, hundreds of accessories and costumes, a collection of historical cameras, a library and a research center.

One of the foundation’s purposes is to find the lost pictures that were part of its 9,000-strong catalog of silent film titles. “We still regularly discover titles which were initially lost — we work with film libraries around the world,” says Sophie Seydoux.

Film restoration is also at the heart of the foundation’s activities: around 15 films a year are given a new lease on life at L’Image Retrouvée, the Paris-based laboratory of leading Italian restoration company L’immagine Ritrovata.

The most formidable project in recent years was the three-year long restoration of Abel Gance’s monumental “The Wheel,” which was released in 2019 in its original seven-hour version.

Restorations currently underway include Albert Capellani’s 1912 series “Les Misérables,” based on Victor Hugo’s novel. “I am a fan of silent movie serials, we try to work on at least one every year — this one is in four episodes, that’s a total of just over two hours, 30 minutes: for us, that’s short,” smiles Sophie, referring to the colossal Gance endeavor.

“And we are very excited about another film we are working on, a precious Indian silent movie called ‘Behula’ by Camille Legrand, dating back to 1921. It’s one of the rare silent movies that hasn’t been totally lost after all these years,” she says.

In addition to the screenings, the foundation also puts on an average of three to four large-scale exhibitions every year. The next one opens in September and will be dedicated to the famous Pathé-Baby, an inexpensive and easy-to-use amateur device introduced by Pathé in 1922, that made it possible to duplicate commercial films for home use.

“Children get to handle the Pathé-Baby camera during our workshops,” explains Sophie, who organizes several workshops a week, which fill up rapidly as soon as they get announced online, for both adults and children.

“It’s no bigger than a smartphone. They’re handed these cameras and projectors and have to learn how to insert the reel and project a movie themselves. It’s so much fun, they love it,” she says.

The foundation hopes to complete the restoration of “Behula” in time for a fall premiere at Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux’s Lumiere film festival, an event dedicated to heritage cinema.