American Silent Feature Film Database
From the report “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929”
About Silent Films Survey
The era of the American silent feature film lasted from 1914 to 1929. During that time filmmakers established the language of cinema, the motion pictures they created reached a height of artistic sophistication, and these films with their recognizable stars and high production values spread American culture around the world. Silent feature films disappeared from sight soon after the coming of sound, and many vanished from existence.
The database represents the first comprehensive survey of the survival of American silent feature films. It contains information on the nearly 11,000 U.S. feature films released between 1912-1929, and holdings information about 3,300 of those titles for which elements are known to exist. The American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films documents 10,921 silent feature films of American origin released through 1930. Treasures from the Film Archives, published by the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), is the primary source of information regarding silent film survival in the archival community. The FIAF information has been enhanced by information from corporations, libraries and private collectors.
We have good documentation on what American silent feature films were produced and released. This database quantifies the "what", "where" and "why" of their survival. The database was designed to answer five questions:
How many films survive?
Who holds the surviving films?
How complete are they?
In what format does the most complete copy survive?
Where was the best surviving copy found?
About the Author
David Pierce is a historian and archivist. At the British Film Institute from 2001 to 2004, he was head of preservation of the National Film and Television Archive, and was appointed Curator (head) of the archive in 2002. He led the NFTVA’s restoration project for F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) with the Academy Film Archive and Twentieth Century Fox.
Before and after his time at the BFI, Mr. Pierce has been active as a motion picture copyright consultant, advising motion picture producers, distributors and exhibitors on thecopyright and ownership of films and television programs. In 1999, he produced the theatrical, video and DVD release of Peter Pan (1924) through Kino International, recording a new orchestral score, and preparing new 35mm prints from a restored negative.
Mr. Pierce’s research examines the connections between film history, copyright, distribution, exhibition and ownership and his articles have appeared in American Film, Film Comment, American Cinematographer, Film History and The Moving Image. His article “The Legion of the Condemned: Why American Silent Films Perished,” appeared in Film History in 1997, and was reprinted in This Film Is Dangerous, published in 2003 by the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). His reference book on the copyright status of films of the 1950s was published in 1989.
Mr. Pierce founded the Media History Digital Library, a project to digitize and provide free and open access to the printed record of the motion picture and broadcasting industries. He has worked with archives, libraries and collectors to contribute to a comprehensive collection of research resources.
This is Mr. Pierce’s fourth research report for the American archival sector. His previous research reports on digital access and commercial access strategies were commissioned by the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and George Eastman House.
He has also curated film programs and lectured at the National Film Theatre in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Mr. Pierce is a member of the editorial board of the journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, The Moving Image. He has lectured at film preservation schools, academic conferences, and festivals. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and received his M.B.A. from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Mr. Pierce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org