Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Library of Congress Digitizing World War I Film

In April 2017 the Library of Congress will present a major exhibition to mark the centennial of America's entry into the First World War. As part of this effort, the Library has launched an ambitious project to digitize its vast World War I film collection.

Under Four Flags, the third propaganda film by the Commitee on Public Information (1918) 

The exhibition Echoes of the Great War will show a selection of World War I films from the nitrate vaults of the Library of Congress. The Library has an extensive film collection on the Great War. There are hundreds of reels of U.S. Signal Corps film, propaganda films by the Commitee on Public Information, as well as contemporary newsreels. Cooper C. Graham was asked to make an inventory of World War I films in the Library's collection for this digitization project. A former film curator at the Library of Congress, Cooper knows his way around and while researching our book American Cinematographers in the Great War had already discovered some spectacular World War I footage in the film collection of the Library of Congress.

"Poignant shots"

As described in the December 2 issue of the Library of Congress Gazette - the Library's staff newsletter - the Library of Congress will digitize nearly 19,000 feet of 35mm nitrate film and 7,200 feet of safety film from its collection related to the Great War. "It was surprising to me how good it was", Cooper said in an interview with the Gazette, mentioning Signal Corps footage that he had seen on the American offensive at the Meuse-Argonne in 1918. "I thought it would be very amateurish. They had incredible shots of shellfire and very poignant shots of dead and wounded. I'd always heard that the World War I films avoided showing fatalities and blood and gore. Not at all."

The Gazette newsletter also has more about our research on Wilbur H. Durborough's 1915 feature film On the Firing Line with the Germans which was restored and digitized recently by the Library of Congress.

Here is a link to the Gazette newsletter and the interview with Cooper Graham - Courtesy: Mark Hartsell, Library of Congress.

P.S: In March 2017, the Library of Congress published a magazine on the centennial of America's entry into World War I, which has an abridged version of this article.

You can read and download this magazine here.

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