Dawson Film Find

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The Dawson Film Find (DFF) was the accidental discovery in 1978 of 372 film titles preserved in 533 reels of silent-era nitrate films in the Klondike Gold Rush town of Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. [1] The reels had been buried under an abandoned hockey rink in 1929 and included lost films of feature movies and newsreels. A construction excavation inadvertently uncovered the forgotten cache of discarded films, which were unintentionally preserved by the permafrost.


The 2016 documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time details the history and recovery of the films, and features footage restored from the reels. [2] The DFF also features in the 2013 documentary short Lost Forever: The Art of Film Preservation. [3]


The 533 film reels date "between 1903 and 1929 and were uncovered in the rubble beneath [an] old hockey rink". [4] Films starring Pearl White, Helen Holmes, Grace Cunard, Lois Weber, Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, and Lon Chaney, among others, were among the find. Along with the lost feature films, there was also rare footage of historic events, including the 1919 World Series. [5]


Beginning in 1903, the Dawson Amateur Athletic Association (DAAA) began showing films in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. The unreturned films were deposited in the local Canadian Bank of Commerce and later stored in the local Carnegie Library basement. The DAAA later converted a swimming pool to an ice rink, but because of improper conversion the ice rink suffered from uneven temperatures in the middle of the rink. In 1929, Clifford Thomson, then employed by the Canadian Bank of Commerce and also treasurer of the hockey association, solved the problem of the library's stock of film and the inadequate ice rink. Thomson took 500,000 feet of film and stacked the reels in the pool, covered the reels with boards and leveled the rink with a layer of earth. The DAAA continued to receive new nitrate films which would later fuel the destruction of the entire complex in a fire in 1951. The films stored under the ice rink were preserved by permafrost and were later uncovered in 1978 when a new recreation center was being built.

The Dawson Film Find material was collected and preserved, with these prints becoming the last surviving records of some movie studios. [6] Owing to its dangerous chemical volatility, [7] the historical find was moved by military transport to Library and Archives Canada and the U.S. Library of Congress for both transfer to safety film and storage.

Films found

Not all films are complete, as some were too damaged to restore in their entirety.

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  1. Evans, Jill (2 October 2018). "A Damaged History of Film: Bill Morrison Discusses "Dawson City: Frozen Time"". Mubi. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  2. Weschler, Lawrence (September 14, 2016). "The Discovery, and Remarkable Recovery, of the King Tut's Tomb of Silent-Era Cinema". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  3. Documentary: Lost forever: The Art of Film Preservation (2013)
  4. "A different sort of Klondike treasure - Yukon News". 24 May 2013.
  5. "Footage of scandalous 1919 World Series saved by Yukon permafrost". CBC News. September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  6. "Dawson City: Frozen Time". Picture Palace Pictures.com. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  7. Morrison, Bill (2016). Dawson City: Frozen Time. Kino Lorber. p. 1:53:45.
  8. Slide, Anthony (2000). Nitrate Won't Wait: A History of Film Preservation in the United States. McFarland & Company. p. 100. ISBN   9780786408368.