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‘Bert Williams: Lime Kiln Club Field Day’ Among 25 New Additions to National Film Registry

'Bert Williams: Lime Kiln Club Field Day' Among 25 New Additions to National Film Registry

As it does annually around this time of the year, the Librarian of Congress today named 25 motion pictures that have been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry for 2014.

And, also as usual, there’s always at least one film that tells a story about people of African descent. This year it’s “Bert Williams: Lime Kiln Club Field Day” – a silent black and white film produced in 1913 that is believed to be the oldest (101 years old) surviving film to feature black actors, led by vaudevillian Bert Williams, the first African American to headline a Broadway show, and the most popular recording artist at the time. The short story, previously shared on this blog, goes… after considerable footage was shot, the film was abandoned. One hundred years later, the 7 reels of untitled and unassembled footage were discovered in the film vaults of the Museum of Modern Art, and are now believed to constitute the earliest surviving feature film starring black actors. 

The production also included members of the Harlem stage show known as J. Leubrie Hill’s “Darktown Follies.” 

Modeled after a popular collection of stories known as “Brother Gardener’s Lime Kiln Club,” the films story follows 3 suitors vying for the hand of the local beauty, portrayed by Odessa Warren Grey. 

Providing insight into early silent-film production (Williams can be seen applying his blackface makeup), these outtakes show white and black cast and crew working together, enjoying themselves in unguarded moments. 

The Museum of Modern Art eventually made the first print of the film in 1976. The museum would go on to name the film “Bert Williams: Lime Kiln Field Day.” No script, intertitles, or production credits for the film survived. By examining the footage frame by frame and by hiring a lip reader to determine the dialogue, The Museum of Modern Art curators reconstructed the planned films narrative. As well as the footage, nearly 100 still images of the interracial production were recovered from within the unedited material.

In 2013, the Library of Congress released a report that conclusively determined that 70 percent of the nation’s silent feature films have been lost forever and only 14 percent exist in their original 35 mm format.

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the National Film Registry that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. The films must be at least 10 years old. The Librarian makes the annual registry selections after reviewing hundreds of titles nominated by the public and conferring with Library film curators and the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB). The public is urged to make nominations for next year’s registry at the NFPB’s website (www.loc.gov/film).

For each title named to the registry, the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation works to ensure that the film is preserved for future generations, either through the Library’s motion-picture preservation program or through collaborative ventures with other archives, motion-picture studios and independent filmmakers. 

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its vast collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov.

Films Selected for the 2014 National Film Registry follow below:

13 Lakes (2004)
Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)                 
The Big Lebowski (1998)                                                    
Down Argentine Way (1940)                                              
The Dragon Painter (1919)                                                  
Felicia (1965)                                                                       
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)                                                                     
The Gang’s All Here (1943)                                                
House of Wax (1953)                                                           
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)
Little Big Man (1970)
Luxo Jr. (1986)
Moon Breath Beat (1980)
Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
The Power and the Glory (1933)
Rio Bravo (1959)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Shoes (1916)
State Fair (1933)
Unmasked (1917)
V-E + 1 (1945)
The Way of Peace (1947)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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