FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                   October 20, 2004

A World Thought Lost is Found

Los Angeles— Two hundred reels of rare documentary film by pioneer filmmaker Burton Holmes, dating from 1898 to 1952, were recently discovered in an abandoned storage unit.

With the recovery of the lost films, the single greatest missing documentary film archive has been rescued. A unique treasure, this record of national and international history is relevant to the study of film, and a precious part of the cultural history of the entire world. It is an amazing view of the world as it was before and after the development of radio, television, and air travel. Genoa Caldwell, archivist of The Burton Holmes Historical Collection and author of The Man Who Photographed the World: The Burton Holmes Travelogues, 1892-1938, responded with joy. "I had given up hope that any of Holmes' films remained," said Caldwell. "He was a contemporary of Edison and the Lumière brothers, and his contribution to film history and history on film is of great importance."

Holmes, a photographer and travel lecturer, introduced the first motion pictures of travel subjects by adding "moving pictures" to his 1897-1898 lecture season. In those cradle days of early cinema, Holmes, one of the world's first documentarians, boldly innovated and explored film's potential. He took his primitive equipment out into the world-at-large, visiting European capitals, Czarist Russia, Imperial Korea, and ravaged Peking in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, as well as exploring the unknown (to Westerners) interior of Japan. He shot priceless footage of the elaborate Coronation of the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, the only filmmaker permitted into the private Imperial enclosure. For sixty years, Holmes traveled the globe making films of incredible quality and scope, accurately recording what he saw with a deep affection and respect for humankind in all its diversity.

"Our task now," said Caldwell, "is to find the money needed to preserve this historically important film, so the work can be seen, studied and appreciated by future generations." Some of the film has been lost beyond recovering; but much remains. The film itself is on aging nitrate and early safety film stock, and is self-destructing from its own acids. It needs to be permanently preserved, before it disappears completely! Aiding Genoa Caldwell in the significant effort of assessing the film and finding preservation resources are Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Bill Cartwright, Sr., and cinematographer Bruce Nolte.

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Contact information:

E-Mail: Burton Holmes Historical Collection

Photographs of the recovery of the film archive