Since the summer of 2014, films from EYE collection have been involved in numerous screenings of the project ‘Views of the Ottoman Empire’; a travelling film presentation aiming to discover and put into context archival images pertaining to former territories of the Ottoman Empire. This project grew gradually from the research into the hundred years ago programs and the WWI films, which revealed many short films, seemingly not belonging anywhere specific, but falling into the right place when viewed from the perspective of the Ottoman history and geography.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the project (which is always presented live to explain the underlying context) is bringing the films to the places they were originally shot. Screenings in places like Kosovo, Belgrade or Istanbul never fail to move the local audiences, confronting them with their home towns from a century ago.
In December 2015, when the project visited Istanbul for the second time, we brought a surprise from EYE: a 1926 film called Les fontaines de Constantinople contains the historic Tophane Fountain that is only 50 meters away from the cinema!
Since the project also hopes to improve the identification of these often scarcely catalogued images, it can be helpful to show the images to the locals. For example, at EYE we recently found and restored the film Pathé-revue n° 37 – Visions de Yougoslavie (Beelden Uit Yugoslavie, 1926). Despite its overall title referring to Yugoslavia, this compilation film appears to contain images of Istanbul’s Uskudar district (or ‘Scutari’, as referred to on the film); recognizable to the residents of the city (mainly thanks to the monumental Mihrimah Sultan Mosque), but not so obvious to us at EYE, due to the presence of many places called ‘Scutari’ on the Balkan peninsula.
Ottoman Project asserts that the films from these territories, though often considered lost, can actually be found in unexpected places. The film Der Kaiser bei unseren Türkischen Verbündeten, shot by the German Army in 1917 has so far popped up in the Netherlands (EYE/Huis Doorn Collection), Germany (Bundesarchiv), England (Imperial War Museum) and Turkey (Turkish Armed Forces archive held by theTurkish Film and TV institute). Unique footage showing Balkan War refugees camping outside Istanbul’s byzantine walls in 1913 arrived to EYE in 2013 from a private collection. Images of the Armenian orphans in the occupied Istanbul (1918-1923) were found at the Library of Congress in Washington and restored by the Cineteca di Bologna in 2015. Images of the ancient Armenian city of Ani, shot by the Italian cameraman Giovanni Vitrotti in 1911, was found within the collection of the Swiss priest Joye, curently held and restored by the British Film Institute.
After having visited Istanbul twice (during the 1st and 2nd Istanbul Silent Cinema Days); just as I thought we had run out of Istanbul images at EYE, a new film surfaced within a very recently donated batch of films only a couple of weeks ago: En Promenade Sur Le Bosphore (1928). Although not unique, this particular print is beautifully toned (as opposed to the French version that is b&w). At the moment there are no immediate plans to restore this particular film, but it is clear that the Ottoman project can continue to travel and gradually grow in the coming years.
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, Curator of Silent FilmTag:Silent cinema, Ottoman, history, archives, discovery, lost&found, nitrate film
Since the inscription of the Desmet Collection on Unesco's Memory of the World Register in 2011 (actually already in the stages of preparing the application) I have been trying to explain why it is difficult to provide an exact number of the films. Although the collection seems to be a finite entity, it also keeps growing (923 and counting)*. It's hard to tell how many films would make the collection 'complete': it is difficult to establish which films exactly had been distributed by Jean Desmet and thus which ones we are still missing. From the company papers it appears that he considered many items, not necessarily acquiring them all in the end. The fact that the poster and the film holdings only barely overlap, is also curious. Even when we do know for sure that he distributed some titles (based on the company papers), not all film prints were among the collection when it arrived to our archive in 1957.Desmet himself had sold parts of his collection, and sometimes these film prints (still bearing the original Desmet company intertitles cards) find their way to our institute through private collectors. This was the case with Tragico Convegno, the 1915 film by Ivo Illuminati that we preserved a couple of years ago. Similarly, over the years, we have received and preserved more films from Desmet's distribution list; such as Loyalty of Sylvia (1912/USA, arrived to us via the Royal Information Services!), or Das Geheimschloss (1914/Germany, found in the year 2000 among thousands of nitrate cans that were privately kept inside the historic city of Haarlem for decades). In such cases, only after examining the print and identifying the contents, we can conclude that we are dealing with a film from the Desmet Collection.But what happened beginning of December 2015 was unprecedented: a few reels of nitrate (bought in a French flea market) were brought to our archive. One of the reels was still in an original Desmet company film can! It is of course very often that film cans get recycled so having the can does not necessarily mean that its content will also be related to the Desmet Collection. And yet, it was: the can contained the 1909 film Nerone by Luigi Maggi, of which EYE so far only held 12 original stills, received from the Desmet family sixty years ago!So 106 years after its release in the Netherlands, and many decades after being separated from the rest of the Desmet Collection, the film (and the can) are now reunited in our vaults.What is going to happen now? First of all, we will be putting the film reel in a new archival film can, so that it can take its permanent place in our vaults. The historic can will go to the film-related collections. The film is not a unique print; several film archives around the world report to have a copy. This means that we will start a research round asking and comparing details, before we can take further action. As part of the Desmet Collection, to have this film preserved is among our prioritites, but it is even more important to do this with all things considered. After all, our print (after so many years of wandering around) may not be complete, or may not be in the greatest condition, and it certainly does not have the original Italian intertitles... So before proceeding, we will dive into international research in order to establish the universal value of what we have.The significance of the Desmet film can, and particularly the fact that we can still receive such an item after so many years, remains very big; it keeps our hope alive that we can go on finding lost silent films from more than a century ago.
* Did you know that you can download the 'complete' filmography of the Desmet film titles as published in the book Jean Desmet's Dream Factory (2014) by scrolling down on this page? Of course with the omission of Nerone.Tag:Silent cinema, Desmet Collection, Jean Desmet, ontdekkingen, lost films, discovery, stille film, Desmet Collectie