2018 Rochester Conference

15th INTERNATIONAL DOMITOR CONFERENCE, Rochester, New York, 13-16 June 2018

Provenance and Early Cinema: Preservation, Circulation, and Repurposing

Mark your calendars! Further information on the 2018 conference at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, USA will be coming soon!


Early films often have a story to tell. Much of what we know about the era comes from surviving projection prints found all over the world, the remnants of a massive diaspora from the main centers of production, mostly in Europe and North America. Over the years, scholars of early cinema have become familiar with repositories in museums, archives, and private collections: the Paper Prints, the Josef Joye films, the Desmet Collection, and the Komiya Collection are only a few among the best known and more frequently explored.

 

However, the question of the provenance of early film—where specific films and collections have been and who has owned, accessed, used, and cared for them—has rarely been. Where didearly films come from, and where have they gone? The material history of film prints, from their commercial distribution to their rescue (first by collectors, then by institutions), as well as rediscovery and repurposing has affected the histories that have been written and the forms in which these works are experienced today. The need for greater degree of attention to this aspect of early film history is now compounded by the widespread dissemination of films in non-photochemical media. Studying provenance provides us with a powerful heuristic to assess the circulation of material history. How can it also be deployed in film historiography and media archaeology for thinking about the provenance of ideas, styles, genres, images, technologies, intellectual property, and patents? And how might we connect these: How does the material provenance of a print refract the cultural and aesthetic provenance of a medium? What do surviving films reveal about media cultures that came before and after cinemas early decades? Given so many dead ends, lost prints, forgotten films—the provenance of the nonextant—how do these absences speak to the values and antipathies of history? The aim of the conference is to explore these multifaceted issues of provenance and early cinema from material, aesthetic, and cultural perspectives.