The Sagarmínaga Collection: A hundred films from the first decade of cinema
Antonino Sagarmínaga was a Basque industrialist fascinated by optical devices, who bought a magic lantern in 1883 to organize screenings at the cultural society El Sitio in Bilbao. In October 1897 he acquired a Joly-Normandin apparatus and some films. He soon encountered problems in finding new films compatible with the peculiar 5-perforation system, and decided to change to a more universal system. Until 1907, he would acquire more than a hundred films, of which 24 were produced with the Joly cinematograph. In 1996 the Filmoteca Española acquired his collection from the Sagarmínaga family. It included two magic lanterns with more than 400 plates, two 35mm projectors, accessories, and more than a hundred films.
The Sagarmínaga Collection opens a window on the early years of cinema in Spain (specifically, in Bilbao), and not only allows us to discover films that have long been regarded as missing (of which several prints are unique), but also, through programmes composed by the exhibitor, to discover how these film were seen>presented/shown? at the time.
The prints were spliced together in reels of approximately 200 metres, in a total of 19 reels (and two separate films); each reel constituted a programme. Some reels have a clear theme. The first ones (A, “B”, C) are dedicated to King Alfonso XIII or current Spanish events. Other reels gather rural scenes (N), sea scenes (“E”), sports (F), comedies (I) or magicians and transformation scenes (“G”), while some programmes have also surprised us by the variety of genres (L or R)... Unfortunately, it seems that some films were lost, and one reel was impossible to save as it was already decomposed when it arrived at the Filmoteca Española.
The main portion of the reels was accompanied by handwritten notes, probably made by Sagarmínaga himself, which were classified by letter (from A to V) and included given titles, the lengths of the films, and comments on the quality of the programmes... These notes have provided crucial information on the evolution of the programmes or the changes made by Sagarmínaga, and have made possible the reconstruction of the original order of the programmes, which had been modified before they arrived at the Filmoteca Española.
The films’ given titles have been considered as release or presentation titles, and are therefore indicated in the new prints; sometimes these are the only titles we have for otherwise unidentified films, since at the time the practice of inserting titles in prints was optional.
In order to identify the films, it was indispensable to identify the production companies, which required examining all kinds of data: manufacturers’ names on the edges of the print or etched on the film base (when they were present), items from the settings, or actors... But most part of the data were provided by the physical characteristics of the prints themselves: the gates of the cameras, the position of the frames, the singular shapes of the perforations (in the prints or photographed from the negatives), which at this time varied from one producer to another, as there were as yet no set industry standards. Original catalogues and publications of the period were also crucial in the process of identification.
In the end, it was possible to determine that most films in the collection were produced in France; some were produced in England, and a few were made in Spain for foreign companies. According to the contemporary catalogues, the Sagarmínaga Collection seems to be a fair representation of what was on offer at the time. It also gives us a new idea of the possible importance of some production companies that have since been largely forgotten, like Parnaland in France or Escobar in Spain.
In 2001, the Filmoteca Española asked me and Encarni Rus to conduct the historical investigation and identification of the Sagarmínaga Collection. The physical repair and preparation of the elements were done by Beatriz Cervantes at the Filmoteca, where some of the prints were duplicated by Cecilio Vega. The laboratory Iskra (Juan José Mendy, Milagros Arriba Alonso, and Manuel Santana) was responsible for the duplication of the main portion of the collection. The Association des frères Lumière allowed the Filmoteca Española to make prints of the Lumière films from duplication elements obtained by the Archives françaises du Film du CNC from the original camera negatives. The final printing of all the films and the reintroduction of the tints (using the Desmet color process) were conducted by the laboratory Fotofilm-Deluxe (Antonio Álvarez). The whole project took more than five years to complete. – Camille Blot-Wellens
La colección Sagarmínaga (1897-1906). Érase una vez el cinematógrafo en Bilbao, Col. Cuadernos de la Filmoteca 14 (2011)
“Estudio e identificación de películas de los primeros años del cinematógrafo. La colección Sagarmínaga” with Encarni Rus Aguilar in Journal of Film Preservation 65 (12/2002)