Amazing Discovery in Faraway New Zealand

An American film preservationist on vacation to New Zealand unexpectedly learned about the existence of a cache of 75 American silent movies from the 1910s and 20s, languishing in a vault in the New Zealand Film Archives. What excites film historians is that many of these films are the only copies known to exist.

These fragile nitrate movies feature Twenties stars like Clara Bow and Mabel Normand and directors like John Ford. They are being preserved and returned to the National Film Preservation Foundation, an affiliate of the Library of Congress.

So how did they get into the vaults of the NZ Film Archives and why were they saved all these years? Seems distance and shipping costs worked in favor of the films. “We [in New Zealand] were probably, in most cases, the end of the distribution run so by the times the films got here, they had probably been forgotten about by their US distributors,” explained Steve Russell, a spokesman for the Archives. “They would have lain around for a while then have been picked up by projectionists, gone into private collections, before making their way to the Film Archive.”

Want to see a little of one of the lost-and-found movies? See the 2 ½ minute clip plus more about this story.