June 7, 2010; Source: Los Angeles Times | We’ve heard of museums returning sculptures and paintings that were looted or otherwise removed from their native countries illegally or inappropriately. But in a unique twist on the practice of art repatriation, national archives that exist to preserve rare films are cooperating to return copies of missing prints found in their collections, including some thought to have been destroyed decades ago.

Of particular note is a new partnership between the New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) in the United States to preserve and return a selection of 75 silent films that haven’t been seen in this country for more than 80 years. One of the missing silent films found in New Zealand, and considered a “crown jewel,” is “Upstream.” Directed by John Ford in 1927, the film features a romance between a Shakespearean actor and a girl from a knife-throwing act.

Usually the last stop on the distribution circuit, prints sent to New Zealand and Australia were supposed to have been destroyed to save the costs of returning them to their home studios. However, many films “were squirreled away” where they’ve remained in the countries’ national archives, according to Annette Melville, director of the NFPF, the nonprofit charitable affiliate of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

The films being returned from New Zealand will be shared among five archives in the U.S.: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Some, such as “Upsteam,” because they were printed on volatile, hazardous nitrate stock, first have to restored and then copies made before being sent home. Preservation costs are expected to top $500,000.

Mike Pogorzelski of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, tells the Los Angeles Times, “The most important thing to take away from this is that these films are still out there.” The academy will screen “Upstream” on Sept. 1 as part of its “Lost and Found” series.—Bruce Trachtenberg