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