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Oldest known footage of Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans discovered in Eye Filmmuseum’s collection

The colourful Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans started in 1872 and was recorded on film relatively early on. Eye Filmmuseum recently found the oldest known footage of the musical parade festival in its collection. The Library of Congress in the United States is adding the short film to the National Film Registry.

By Eye Editors14 December 2022

Mardi Gras Carnival added to National Film Registry

The Library of Congress in the United States is adding the short film Mardi Gras Carnival (US, 1898) to the National Film Registry. Eye Filmmuseum discovered this year that it had the oldest surviving moving images of the Mardi Gras parade in its collection following an enquiry from the Louisiana State Museum, which is dedicating an exhibition to the history of the Mardi Gras procession. Another 150 films from this Mutoscope and Biograph Collection are awaiting further restoration, so there is a large probability of more rare footage from the early days of cinema coming to light.

still from Mardi Gras Carnival (US 1898)
still from Mardi Gras Carnival (US 1898)

"Over 70% of silent cinema is gone. That’s a fact. Which means that every time a film classified as lost is rediscovered and restored it’s an event to be celebrated. Eye Film Museum in the Netherlands has been at the forefront of these efforts. Their latest rediscovery is a priceless record of the 1898 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, a window onto a lost moment in time. The entire team at the Eye deserves the recognition and gratitude of every lover of cinema." - Martin Scorsese, director

Every year, only 25 American films are added to the National Film Registry, which includes classics such as Sunset Boulevard, Vertigo and The Wizard of Oz, as well as some of the earliest Edison experiments with capturing moving images. This year, Mardi Gras Carnival is among the elected titles. It is the earliest known film of the carnival parades in New Orleans, and shows several spectacular floats. The film became the focus of attention thanks to its inclusion in the “Rex:150th Anniversary” exhibition curated by the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans.

This news article was originally posted on 11 July 2022:

The discovery of two minutes of film from a newsreel of the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans received column inches in The New York Times and the Smithsonian Magazine, making it news around the world.

The reporting was occasioned by the screening of a digitised copy at an exhibition at the Louisiana State Museum dedicated to the Rex Organization, one of the principal Mardi Gras parade organisers. This year, Rex celebrates its 150th anniversary.

The Louisiana State Museum’s curators wanted to screen the oldest film footage they could find of Mardi Gras. Their search led them to Eye’s Collection Centre.

The film museum’s researchers combed the database discovering footage from 1898. It was part of the renowned Mutoscope & Biograph collection, a rare collection of early newsreels.

The American curators’ research uncovered one of Eye’s hidden treasures. The film museum had conserved the two-minute snippet on film in the 1990s, but had not found out it was the oldest known footage of Mardi Gras and New Orleans yet.

Eye has been digitizing parts of Mutoscope & Biograph collection at high resolution (8K) for some time now. It is not inconceivable that previously unidentified or previously unidentified images from the era of early cinema will emerge during the process.

Alongside at the Louisiana State Museum, the footage can also be seen on YouTube:

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still from Mardi Gras Carnival (US 1898)
still from Mardi Gras Carnival (US 1898)
still from Mardi Gras Carnival (US 1898)
still from Mardi Gras Carnival (US 1898)