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NZ Film Archive honoured for preservation of silent cinema

The New Zealand Film Archive has been bestowed with the 2011 Jean Mitry Award, an international prize that singles out individuals or organisations “distinguished for their contribution to the reclamation and appreciation of silent cinema.”

The White Shadow

The White Shadow

The NZFA shares the honour with the US National Film Preservation Foundation, the archive's partner in the collaboration to preserve and make available American silent-era films identified in New Zealand.

It's the first time the Jean Mitry award has been shared by two organisations; the NZFA is the only Kiwi recipient to date, although its first director, Jonathan Dennis, received the award as an individual in 1993.

Only a fraction of the American films created during the first 40 years of the motion picture still exist in the US. But American silent films enjoyed worldwide popularity, and many discarded works now survive internationally as distribution prints salvaged at the end of theatrical runs. 

The NZFA says most of the films recovered in New Zealand owe their survival to collectors such as Jack Murtagh.

The award was handed out on Friday at the Giornate del Cinema Muto, the internationally renowned festival of silent film held annually in Pordenone, Italy, before a screening of the preserved reels ofThe White Shadow (1923), the earliest surviving feature credited to Alfred Hitchcock.

The opening 35 minutes of the British production were found at the NZFA by Leslie Lewis, a National Film Preservation Foundation researcher, and preserved at Park Road Post in Wellington through the NZFA and NFPF collaboration.

As these “lost” films are preserved they will be made available for Kiwi audiences to rediscover.

Among the rarities recovered through the multi-year repatriation initiative is the only known print of the John Ford comedy Upstream (1927). In total, 163 American silent-era titles have been identified for preservation and more than 80 percent are thought to exist nowhere else.

Film Archive chief executive Frank Stark said: "The award has really brought home to us what an impact the work of the Film Archive has made on the international cinema community. All week, people have been coming up to me to thank us for what we have done."