Rochester, N.Y., July 2, 2021—The George Eastman Museum announced that its recent restoration of Murder in Harlem (1935), a rare film directed by Oscar Micheaux (1884–1951), has been selected to be screened in the Cannes Classic series at the 74th Annual Cannes Film Festival (Festival de Cannes) in France. The festival will be held from Tuesday, July 6, through Saturday, July 17, 2021. The Eastman Museum collaborated with the Cineteca di Bologna, in Italy, to preserve the film.
Murder in Harlem is among a group of motion pictures referred to as “race films,” a term used to refer to films with Black casts created for Black audiences between 1915 and 1950. The original 35mm print was discovered in 1983 in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas, as part of an extensive collection of race films. The prints now belong to the Southern Methodist University/Tyler, Texas Film Collection, SMU Libraries. The George Eastman Museum is the custodian of the nitrate prints in the collection.
“Race films are a fascinating part of the history of American cinema—one that was overlooked for a long time,” said Peter Bagrov, Senior Curator, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum. “Many of these pictures are still considered lost, and the majority of the existing ones have only been available in low-quality copies. We are working with our partners across the country and the world to preserve these films so they are rightfully and respectfully represented in film history.”
Oscar Micheaux was arguably the most influential Black director of the 1910s through 1930s. This makes restoration efforts of his films particularly important. Clarence Williams, who was not credited for his work on the film, was a New Orleans composer, musician, producer, musical arranger, agent, and publisher instrumental in promoting jazz in America. His uncredited work on Murder in Harlem is contained in the cabaret sequence.
This digital restoration of Murder in Harlem, made from a 35mm nitrate black-and-white sound print, brings back the original look to the film. The Eastman Museum was joined by Cineteca di Bologna, the Film Foundation, Quoiat Films, and Sky Group Media to preserve and digitize the film. Digital scanning at 4K was performed at Eastman Museum Film Preservation Services. The digital files were then sent to L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna for clean-up, initial grading, title creation, and formatting. Final grading was conducted at the Eastman Museum. The digital cinema package (DCP) will be shown at Cannes. Later this summer, the preservation project will be completed when L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory creates a 35mm duplicate negative and 35mm print from the digital files.
The George Eastman Museum previously preserved two other films directed by Oscar Micheaux, Body and Soul (1925) and Veiled Aristocrats (1932). Body and Soul will be screened at the Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre on Tuesday, July 6, at 7:30 p.m. as part of the film series Race Films.
Gian Luca Farinelli, Director of the Cineteca di Bologna, proposed Murder in Harlem for entry into the Cannes Classics series. Farinelli also organized the association of the Film Foundation, Quoiat Films, and Sky Group Media to support this project.
About the George Eastman Museum
Founded in 1947, the George Eastman Museum is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the largest film archives in the United States, located on the historic Rochester estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography. Its holdings comprise more than 400,000 photographs, 28,000 motion picture films, the world’s preeminent collection of photographic and cinematographic technology, one of the leading libraries of books related to photography and cinema, and extensive holdings of documents and other objects related to George Eastman. As a research and teaching institution, the Eastman Museum has an active book publishing program, and its L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation’s graduate program (a collaboration with the University of Rochester) makes critical contributions to film preservation. For more information, visit eastman.org.