George Eastman Museum acquires rare collection of Lumière films

The newly restored films will make their debut at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival on October 4

Rochester, N.Y., October 2, 2017—The George Eastman Museum has recently acquired and restored a rare collection of eighteen Lumière films. The nitrate reels, all in nearly pristine condition, consist of seven 35mm negatives and eleven 35mm positive prints, dating approximately between 1896 and 1903. The restored films will make their debut at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy on Wednesday, October 4, at 8:30 p.m.

The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, were French inventors who manufactured an early motion picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe. They are credited with creating the first motion picture for theatrical projection, La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), which debuted at the Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895, marking the official beginning of cinema history. The Lumière brothers’ films recorded everyday life and scenic views in France and worldwide—from trains pulling into stations, notable cities, and landscapes, to people playing cards, soldiers marching, and a mother feeding her baby.

Relatively few original negatives of Lumière films are known to survive outside France. Most of them are preserved at the Archives françaises du film of the Centre national de la cinématographie (CNC) in Bois d’Arcy and by the Institut Lumière in Lyon. Of the eighteen films recently acquired by the Eastman Museum, five have been officially identified. The films include footage from a variety of locations, such as soldiers at camp in Madrid and Paris, scenes from the 1896 Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, steam fire engines in Ireland, and sailors off the coast of Croatia. They range in length from 15 seconds to nearly three minutes.

“Finding a collection of Lumière prints and negatives in almost mint condition, 120 years after their creation, is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum. “Their survival is a testimony to the resilience and longevity of cinematic artworks on nitrate film stock, whose preservation and public exhibition in their original medium and format is at the core of our mission as a collecting institution.”

The films were preserved at the Haghefilm Digitaal Laboratories in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, by Samuel B. Lane as part of the Haghefilm Fellowship program held in collaboration with the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the Eastman Museum. (Lane, a 2017 graduate of the Selznick School and recipient of the fellowship, was recently hired by the Eastman Museum as a Film Conservation Specialist.)

The original nitrate film elements are now stored at the museum’s Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center, where they joined an existing collection of seven nitrate prints of Lumière films, most of which are yet unpreserved. The museum’s collection also includes some 35mm projection prints of Lumière films obtained from other members of FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives).

“The acquisition of these films would not have been possible without the professional connections and decisive action of Dr. Cherchi Usai and a generous grant from the Louis B. Mayer Foundation,” said Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman Museum. “Adding these rare Lumière films to our moving image collection represents an important step forward in further strengthening the museum’s exemplary collection of early cinema.”