Monday, June 20, 2016

Lost & Found - "The Battles of A Nation" (USA, 1915)

Walter De Swaef from Belgium recently contacted us about a remarkable World War I silent newsreel that he had discovered on the Internet, showing among other scenes fighting along the Western Front, including combat in Belgium. Based on copyright references that we had found earlier at the Library of Congress, we could identify some of the scenes from this footage, which were culled from Albert K. Dawson's 1915 feature film The Battles of A Nation.

Frame enlargement found at the Library of Congress from The Battles of A Nation. Note the copyright reference to the American Correspondent Film Company

First shown on November 18, 1915, at the Park Theatre in New York City, The Battles of A Nation pictured the attack by the Austro-German Army at the Eastern Front and highlighted the capture of Lemberg (Lvov), the Galician capital, and Warsaw. We had found similar scenes before, both in the nitrate vaults at the Library of Congress, as well as in footage that was used for an Austrian TV documentary on the First World War. But until this discovery we were never quite sure about the actual identity and the original production company. The intertitles in the footage however mention the American Correspondent Film Company (A.C.F) - the film company Dawson worked for - and provide us with some solid proof.

Cameraman Albert K. Dawson

Propaganda Tool

As described in more detail in our book American Cinematographers in the Great War, the American Correspondent Film Company was secretly funded by the Germans in 1915 and used as a propaganda tool in the United States. Apart from film shot by Dawson, the company also used films that were supplied by the Zentralstelle für Auslandsdienst, Germany's official foreign propaganda agency in World War I.

Here is a synopsis of this film, as listed in the catalogue of the American Film Institute.

The footage was uploaded by a stock film library, Periscope, in February 2015 and it is a very messy and no doubt pirated compilation with original World War I footage from a number of sources, including Eclair Films. Apart from the footage that came from Dawson's war film, the film also shows some remarkable scenes taken in 1914, showing the German invasion of Belgium and the resistance by the Belgian army. We contacted Periscope film researcher Nick Spark about the footage, and he said these films were not copied from other archives but come from Periscope's own collection. So, the provenance of this historic World War I movie for the moment remains a mystery, but the authors together with Walter De Swaef are still trying to find out more about this remarkable film.

Mr. De Swaef discovered this film while researching his book Duitse Oorlogsgruwel in Aalst. This book deals with the attack and destruction of the Belgian city of Aalst (Alost) in September/October 1914 by the German army, in the process of which 40 Belgian civilians were killed.

To view the Periscope film click on this link.

We have also uploaded the original The Battles of A Nation scenes from this Periscope footage on our YouTube channel.


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