NFSA brings historical ‘Corrick Collection’ of films to life

La Ruche Merveilleuse from 'The Corrick Collection'.

Some of the oldest films ever made in Australia can now be found on YouTube after being restored by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA).

The Corrick Collection, containing 135 of the world’s earliest films, depicts scenes from the Corrick Family Entertainers variety act from more than a century ago.

Five films from the collection are now available to audiences worldwide on the NFSA’s YouTube channel, with a further selection to be screened at Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island festival next month to celebrate the Corricks’ connection with the state.

It comes after the NSFA undertook photochemical film-to-film restoration of the original nitrate prints, collaborating with Haghefilm Conservation in Amsterdam to lay the groundwork for the digital updates.

NFSA curator Elena Guest, who is based in Sydney, told IF the process has spanned more than a decade.

“The film-to-film restoration started in 2007 and went for about four to five years,” she said.

“In 2017, we started with the digital restoration, which was also done with Haghefilm because they had all the files from the film-to-film restoration.

“As nitrate specialists, they were able to use the files and the colours from that process to produce something very close to the original nitrates.”

The Corrick family on tour.

The subject matter of the films originated in 1897, when the Corricks produced a two-hour ‘multimedia’ extravaganza featuring live music, dancing, comedy sketches, poetry recitals and singalongs.

In 1901, the youngest Corrick, Leonard, introduced a film program titled ‘Leonard’s Beautiful Pictures’, offering Australian audiences a chance to explore the world via special effects, comedy, and newsreel films made in Europe and the United States by names such as D.W. Griffith and Edwin S. Porter.

Leonard Corrick eventually acquired his own film equipment, and started shooting, editing, and screening footage of whichever town the troupe was visiting.

Audiences would come along, wanting to see their town (and themselves) on screen.

Leonard also made the first narrative film ever produced in Western Australia, 1907’s The Bashful Mr Brown.

The Corricks eventually retired and settled in Tasmania.

Their collection, including films, photographs and tour memorabilia, was donated to the NFSA by Leonard‘s son John.

Leonard’s grandson Stewart said the digital restoration of the collection had given him a greater understanding of its historical significance.

“When I met all the NFSA staff who’d been working on this collection and its digital restoration for years, it was a mind-blowing day,” he said.

“It made me appreciate what my grandfather Leonard had brought together and, in part created something that was and is a cinematic holy grail of enormous significance to not only my family’s heritage, but that of our nation

Further national and international screenings will be announced in coming months.

Click here to view a selection of the films on the NFSA YouTube channel.