Long lines snaked around the Lumière Institute theater, buzzing with anticipation for the upcoming screening. You would have been hard-pressed to guess that the excitement was for a 1926 silent film – but that is the Lumière Festival in a nutshell. This particular offering was The First Year, a print restored with financing from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and for the second year in a row, the screening was hosted by the HFPA (last year it was the Powell/Pressburger classic The Red Shoes).
The HFPA-sponsored screenings in Lyon are part of a partnership between our association and the Lumière Institute, which has also seen the HFPA take a leading role in supporting the restoration of original Lumière Brothers shorts – the first films ever made. An initial grant in 2018 was followed this year by a donation of $250,000 to finance the second phase of restorations.
Before the screening, festival director Thierry Frémaux welcomed an HFPA delegation to the stage to introduce a recorded welcome message from HFPA president Lorenzo Soria, as well as a short film about the association’s growing efforts in the preservation of film heritage. Since 1996, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has contributed over $5 million towards the restoration of over 100 titles in collaboration with the Film Foundation, UCLA Film and Television Archives, Film Noir Foundation, IndieCollect and others (List of Restored Films). In recent years we have stepped up our commitment with projects like the nitrate retrofit of the projection booth at the American Cinematheque, partnerships with the Bologna Film Festival and our own Restoration Summit.
Film scholar Herve Dumont set the stage recalling how director Frank Borzage had, at 31 years of age, already acted in 80 films and directed 34 features when he adapted The First Year from a popular Broadway play. He had already received the Photoplay Magazine award (a precursor of the Oscar) and would, the following year, in fact, be awarded the first-ever directing Academy Award for 7th Heaven. He would later go on to helm classics such as A Farewell To Arms with Gary Cooper. Even though as Dumont said, at the time no less than Sergei Eisenstein considered Borzage one of Hollywood’s top three directors (with Chaplin and Eric Von Stroheim), this film had been practically forgotten, so it was that much more of a revelation to see not only the quality of the restored picture but the freshness of the gags in a romantic comedy of errors starring Matt Moore, Katherine Perry and Carolynne Snowden – an early star of African American film who, even from beneath the stereotypes of the time, steals every comedic scene.
A true testament to the vital importance of restoring, preserving and screening our global film heritage.