The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) today announced that Australia’s earliest feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), has been added to the international register of UNESCO’s Memory of the World. The decision was made at a meeting of UNESCO’s International Advisory Committee in Pretoria, South Africa last week.
Established in 1997, the prestigious Memory of the World Register formally acknowledges historical heritage of world significance, such as the Gutenberg Bible and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
Charles Tait’s production The Story of the Kelly Gang, recently restored by the NFSA, joins other film classics such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), Luis Buñuel’s Los olvidados (1950) and the first films by the Lumière brothers (1895) in UNESCO’s list of cinematic treasures of the 20th century.
Other Australian entries in the Memory of the World Register include the Endeavour Journal of Captain James Cook and the Mabo Case Manuscript.
Claimed to be the first feature length film to be produced anywhere in the world, The Story of the Kelly Gang is one of the most significant early cinema productions still in existence. While only fragments of the fragile nitrate film stock have survived, the NFSA has been able to restore almost 17 minutes of footage that provide a clear sense of the form, style and experience of the extensive production.
The original fragments of The Story of the Kelly Gang are preserved and supported by equally rare original documents including the daybill poster and program booklet produced for the film’s original release, premiering 26 December 1906 in Melbourne.
NFSA Director Paolo Cherchi Usai exulted at the news from UNESCO. “The digital restoration of the 1906 Kelly Gang that we achieved last year could not have been more timely,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to UNESCO for recognising Australia’s role in the advancement of cinema culture and industry. By adding the 1906 Kelly Gang to the Memory of the World registry, UNESCO has also confirmed the pivotal role of the NFSA as a cultural institution at the national and international level.”
In addition to the preserved original material, the NFSA holds 35mm archival screening prints of the digitally restored silent film and a critically acclaimed DVD release. “The restored fragments can finally be seen in the film’s original cinematic format as well as on DVD,” said Cherchi Usai. “Now that it is accessible to a much wider audience, the 1906 Kelly Gang is part of the world’s cultural memory in the fullest sense of the term. Australians have another good reason to be proud of their National Film and Sound Archive.”
The Story of the Kelly Gang DVD package retails at $39.95 and is available at the NFSA shop (ph 02 6248 2006), online through www.nfsa.afc.gov.au/shop, through ATOM and various retail outlets.