Category Archives: African American

Re-discovering Amiri Baraka’s THE NEW-ARK (1968)

As you may recall, a print of an early film by the poet Amiri Baraka was discovered at the Harvard Film Archive back in January.  It had been belived lost for decades.

The HFA worked with Anthology Film Archives to make a 2K scan of the print, and we are pleased to announce the film is now available digitally will be available for loan soon.

THE NEW-ARK, not screened publicly for over 40 years, was shown in Newark this week.  (Read the local news story here and here.) and the new 2K file will screen at Anthology Film Archives in New York City on May 16th and May 18th as part of a tribute to Baraka.

The HFA will be showing the movie in the fall.

HOW IS A LOST FILM FOUND?

We’ll be writing more about this soon, but here is the short story of this particular film.  THE NEW-ARK is part of the James E. Hinton Collection at the Harvard Film Archive. The material in the collection has been cataloged, re-housed and sent into cold storage, and a finding aid was created.  I know, I know, “finding aids are boring”  (or so I’ve been told), but they are effective tools for seeing into larger collections.

Despite what you might think, the processing archivist doesn’t get to watch every film that comes through his or her hands.  The film is generally inspected on a rewind bench, identified by printed credits, rehoused into archival containers, and sent into storage.  Unknown titles are sometimes viewed for content identification if there is time and the condition of the material allows.

Two separate independent researchers discovered the Hinton Collection, and were interested in delving into the material.  The HFA benefited from their work, because they were able to give us detailed descriptions of the films they viewed.  Credits for THE NEW-ARK were transcribed, and the director was noted as LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka).

Still, the presence of a sought-after, lost film went unnoticed.

Whitney Strub, of Rutgers University, was researching films made in Newark, NJ, and came across the title in the published work of one of the aforementioned researchers.  He wanted to show it in New Jersey.  He spoke to archivists at the HFA and at Anthology Film Archives about it following Baraka’s death, and together we brought the film out of the dark.  Whitney’s article in Bright Lights Film Journal is linked here, and here is a brief radio interview with him.

This is a fairly typical story of how a lost film can be found in the collection of an archive.  The HFA processed the film as part of  a larger collection, but did not realize its significance.  We put its title out for people on the internet to find via the finding aid, and someone who was looking for it found it.

Our thanks to everyone who helped make this re-discovery possible: Lars Lierow, whose research at the HFA led to an article in Black Camera, “The ‘Black Man’s Vision of the World”cites the existence of the print, to Chuck Jackson who also worked with the Hinton Collection, and especially to Whitney Strub and Andy Lampert (of Anthology Film Archives).

Another of Baraka’s early films BLACK SPRING (1967) remains lost.  If you should come across it, get in touch!  He is, no doubt, credited as LeRoi Jones.