Category Archives: rare

Robert Flaherty’s lost Irish Gaelic film found at Harvard

Documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty directed the first film made in the Irish language, Oidhche Sheanchais (“A Night of Storytelling”) in 1935 during the production of his now classic film Man of Aran.

Cited in nearly every history of Irish cinema, this short (11 minute) film has been missing, believed lost, since a fire destroyed the only known copies in 1943. A nitrate print of the film, purchased by the Harvard College Library in 1935 at the request of Harvard’s Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures, was rediscovered by Houghton Library curators during a cataloging update in 2012.

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Oidhche Sheanchais, a fascinating distillation of Flaherty’s belief in cinema as a kind of folkloric art, depicts a typical Irish hearth, where the main cast members of Man of Aran sit, listening to an ancient tale told by famed Seanchaí (storyteller) Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin. Oidhche Sheanchais is Flaherty’s first work in direct sound and the first “talkie” in Irish Gaelic. It was filmed in the same London studio where the Man of Aran cast had already gathered for the recording of post-synch sound.

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS fireside scene one frame with perfs

The Harvard Film Archive, in collaboration with Houghton Library, the Celtic department and Harvard’s Office of the Provost, has preserved Oidhche Sheanchais on 35mm film and digital formats.  The film had a short run in Ireland and was never subtitled in English. Harvard has had the film translated and both subtitled and non-subtitled versions will be available.

2 OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS title card one frame

Today (July 3), the new 35mm subtitled print has its premiere at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna—one of the most prestigious showcases for rediscovered and restored films—with introductions by Harvard Film Archive Director Haden Guest and Irish Film Institute Head of Irish Film Programming Sunniva O’Flynn.

We are grateful for everyone who helped make this exciting project possible, and hope you come see the film when we screen it on the big screen!  The film will be available for loan as 35mm or DCP once it has had its Harvard premiere.  Stay tuned!

OIDCHE SHEANCHAUS boy on floor one frame with perfs

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.

 

 

The New-Ark by Amiri Baraka

We discovered another rare film in the Harvard Film Archive’s collections this week.

THE NEW-ARK (1968) was written and directed by Leroi Jones AKA Amiri Baraka (1934-2014).  The HFA has a print, possibly unique, in the James Hinton Collection.  Hinton was cinematographer on the film.

THE NEW-ARK is a creative documentary about Black Education, urban public theater, and political consciousness-raising in Newark, NJ, set inside and outside of Spirit House.  Spirit House, also known as Heckalu Community Center, was a Black Nationalist community center in Newark, NJ, under the leadership of poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka (known at the time as LeRoi Jones).  Includes shots of Baraka reading “Poem to Half-White College Students.” There are shots of Spirit House Community Black School including the teaching of the Black Alphabet.   The film contains footage of street theater performances, political rallies, rehearsals, martial arts practice, discussions, dance and musical performances.  (blurb based on a description by Chuck Jackson)

The 1968 Ektachrome print is in decent condition and the HFA plans to partner with Anthology Film Archives to digitize the print and make it available for screenings.