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 early cinema 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 major repositories in museums and archives: the Paper Prints at the Library of Congress, the Josef Joye Collection (in Switzerland, the UK and Italy, as well as in the United States, albeit in the form of fragments), the Desmet Collection (in the Netherlands), the Komiya Collection (in Japan) are only a few among the best known and more frequently explored.

The question of the provenance of early film, however, has rarely been discussed as a phenomenon in its own right. Where does early film come from, and where has it gone? The material history of early film prints, from their commercial distribution (purchase, loan) to their rescue (first by collectors, then by institutions) as well as rediscovery and repurposing (for restorations, reassessment, and found-footage recycling) has deeply affected both the histories that have been written as well as the forms in which these works are experienced today. The urgency of a greater degree of attention to this aspect of early film history is now compounded by the widespread dissemination of early films in non-photochemical media.

Just as provenance provides us with a powerful heuristic to assess the circulation of material history, how can it also be adapted in film history and media archaeology for thinking about the provenance of ideas, styles, genres, images, technologies, 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 of the provenance of a media culture that came before early cinema? And conversely what do surviving prints tell us about the provenance of the media culture that came after early cinema? In film history, when we are faced with so many dead ends, lost prints, forgotten films—the provenance of the nonextant—how do these absences speak to the movements, values, and antipathies of history?

The aim of the conference is to explore these multifaceted issues of provenance and early cinema, including, but not limited to, its aesthetic, cultural, and historiographic perspectives. Potential topics might include: