Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pordenone Screens "On the Firing Line with the Germans" (USA, 1915)

On October 9, authors Jim Castellan and Ron van Dopperen attended the special screening at Pordenone of Wilbur H. Durborough's historical World War I film On the Firing Line with the Germans. Reconstructed by the Library of Congress and with a musical score on the piano by Philip Carli, the film was shown to a crowded Verdi theatre. Afterwards we had a panel discussion at the Hotel Moderno, which was also well attended and organized together with Marten van Harten, project coordinator of the International Network of Museums for Peace.

Jim Castellan, Ron van Dopperen and Marten van Harten 

For a war film it is somewhat ironic that the scene that attracted most attention has nothing to do with the German army during World War I. Durborough's film has a short segment showing the first attempt by the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (founded in 1915) to stop the Great War. Apart from the evolving public interest and historical value of this feature documentary - which was compared to the British classic World War I film The Battle of the Somme (1916) - the film was also applauded for the restoration work by the Library of Congress. To make this possible, in 2010 Cooper C. Graham and Jim Castellan began the process of reviewing and logging each reel of known Durborough film in the Library’s nitrate vault and the National Archives film collection. Lost footage shot by Durborough not found on the surviving nitrate reels was found in the Signal Corps film collection of the National Archives. Research by Ron van Dopperen, Graham and Castellan led through an online film sourcing company to Signal Corps film with no identifiable source but identified as Durborough’s by initial film frames associated with the titles on the Copyright paper print rolls in the Library of Congress.

Restoration Process

The Durborough film with its accompanying musical score is now in the public domain and available in digital (dcp) format. The nitrate reels were reviewed using the reconstruction script and select scenes and reels were optically printed using an Oxberry optical printer with a KL wetgate to create new internegatives.  The new negatives were then scanned using a DFT Spirit Classic datacine in 1080p 24fps HD.  The digital files were next loaded onto a Macintosh computer for review and assembled using Final Cut Pro X. The final step was to have the images masked, stabilized, and speed corrected using the Clipster by DVS. Apart from Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Picture Department at the Library of Congress, we would like to thank the full staff of this restoration project: Nitrate Inspection and Selection: Valerie Cervantes, Lynanne Schweighofer, George Willeman; Optical Printing: Brian Allan and Michael Hinton; Scanning: Pat Kennedy; Digital Assembly: George Willeman and Lynanne Schweighofer; Digital Masking and Stabilization: John Carter; Project Manager: Rob Stone.

Q&A at the Moderno Hotel after the film show

Interest by the International Peace Movement

Pointing out the interests of the international peace museums, Marten van Harten has outlined several ways how the original film can be presented in different countries. Screenings could be combined with short films on legal aspects such as women's rights.  For permanent museum use there may be a demand for a number of selected scenes showing the casualties of war, the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and the suffering of the civilian population on the eastern front, as filmed by Durborough. The film scene showing the 1915 peace initiative will also be used on October 16 for Global Ethics Day.

Last but not least, we would like to thank Kevin Brownlow for his support and interest in our film research - we were very pleased he attended our dinner after the film show - as well as David Robinson, director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival for his work on getting the Durborough film on the program!

P.S: The international film journal Sight & Sound in December 2015 published this review of the exhibition of Durborough's film at Pordenone.

Posted before on YouTube, here is a short compilation of scenes from the movie, as shown on October 9.


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