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What Does It Take to Digitally-Restore Early Black Films, Frame by Frame, w/ No Negatives? Watch & Learn

What Does It Take to Digitally-Restore Early Black Films, Frame by Frame, w/ No Negatives? Watch & Learn

I say
without any hesitation or hyperbole that Kino Lorber’s currently in the works
Blu-ray DVD set, curated by film history professors Charles Musser at Yale
University and Jacqueline Stewart at the University of Chicago, of early black
films from the silent film era to the 1940’s, is the
most important Blu-ray DVD collection set to come out (hopefully) next year.

Showcasing
the films by pioneering black filmmakers such as Oscar Michaeux, the Norman Manufacturing
Company, Spencer Williams and James and Eloyce Gist among others, the set has
already attracted a considerable amount of attention by film scholars and
people who just love movies, their history and lore, Needless to say, it
cannot arrive soon enough.

To our modern
eyes, these films, such as “Dirty Gerte from Harlem U.S.A.”, “Within Our Gates” (pictured
above), “The Blood of Jesus”, “The
Flying Ace”, “The Scar of Shame”, and “The Symbol of the Unconquered” among
many others, may seem quaint and antiquated. But these were the films and the filmmakers
who were the true trailblazers who opened a path for every black films and
filmmakers currently working today.

It doesn’t
matter if you’re a fan of the work of Gina Prince-Blythewood, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay,
Antoine Fuqua, Justin Simien, Terrence Nance or whoever, all of them, as well as
every single person who has watched their films, owes a major debt of gratitude to these early black filmmakers. Without them, that black film that you like
or dislike, or even debate about, would not exist today.

Last month, Kino launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising the $35,000
needed to compete the work, and restoring some 8 films for the box set. The campaign
was such a rousing success that, last week, Kino announced that they are
expanding their original list of 8 films to 12, and have continued the campaign to raise another $25,000 for the additional 4
films which they probably will reach (go HERE for Kino’s Kickstarter campaign). 

But what does it take to preserve and restore these films? A lot of hard, painstaking
work, of course. Not surprisingly, the conditions of the prints of these films
are in horribly bad shape, and no negative exists for them. It means digitally
restoring, frame by frame, each film.

And don’t
forget, we’re talking about those films in which prints, no matter what condition,
still exist. There are many other early black films from this period that need
to be restored, and even more that are lost for good. All that’s left, if they’re
found, are decayed, crumbling old nitrate prints for which nothing can be done.

However, Kino, last week, posted a new video which explains what it takes to restore those early
black films, and, as you can see, it’s a Herculean task. But one that is so necessary
and historically important.

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