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New Preservation of Mardi Gras Films

Amistad has received new preservation masters of two films from the Robert S. and Lillie Mae Green collection thanks to a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation. Brand new 16mm copies of the 30 minute films will replace the decaying original 8mm reels as masters, and will be preserved in ARC’s climate controlled offsite facility. The grant also provided new screening copies of the films and digitization of the footage. New DVD copies of the film will be available to visitors of the Center, and we hope to soon make the material available online.

Visitors to Amistad’s recent book sale on November 13th and 14th were treated to the first public screening of the new DVDs, which feature images of balls and parades organized by New Orleans carnival clubs in the mid-1950s. These home movies are rare visual records of private African American balls, which are traditionally closed to non-members.

Intriguing themes like “Satan’s Inferno” and “Symphony Variations” provide a lively backdrop to the vintage costumes. Carnival royalty is presented ceremoniously to the hall. Louis Jordan’s band performs silently, and the dancing, costumed audience members smile for Green’s camera. A portion of one of the films depicts a parade, with a marching band and costumed youngsters riding floats.

While the parade appears to have been organized by the African American Catholic lay organization, Knights of Peter Claver (one float carries a banner which reads “Krewe of Klaver”), the hosting organizations of the balls depicted on these particular films are as yet unidentified. A ball from the Bon Temps organization appears elsewhere in the Green films, so that group is one possible candidate, but we would love to be able to make a positive identification. Many of the clubs which were active during the 1950s are no longer in existence, but if any former members or family members recognize any of the groups from the films, please get in touch with Amistad.

Every year, the National Film Preservation Foundation awards grants to nonprofit and public institutions for laboratory work to preserve culturally and historically significant film materials.

These Green films were preserved by a grant from the 2014 cycle. In the coming year, the program will fund the preservation of 57 more films from around the country, including a third carnival film from the Green collection. See the full list here

Images from the Robert S. and Lillie Mae Green collection. Images from the Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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