26 Jan 2017, by WouterAalberts
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On February 7 and 8, the Center for Moving Image Arts at Bard College will show part of the Desmet Collection named "Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory, 1906 – 1916". Belgian-born film impresario Jean Desmet (1875 – 1956) spurred the growth of a new urban film culture in Europe before and during World War I. Desmet’s collection of 35mm prints and related materials (including posters, handbills, correspondence, and other ephemera) is now a vast visual-historical archive preserved at the EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam.
In 2011 the Desmet collection was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register — one of the few film collections in the world to receive this designation. In association with EYE Film Institute, the Bard College presents six programs chosen from Desmet’s holdings, each event recreating an evening’s entertainment akin to what Desmet himself might have chosen with a mixture of genres, studios, and countries of origin. Films have been transferred to DCP format and subtitled in English.
Jean Desmet was a cinema operator and a leading film distributor. He began in 1893 as a pottery vendor at carnivals and fairs. His father, an impoverished Dutch-Belgian trader, had just died, and as the eldest son, Jean brought in the family’s income together with his mother. After his mother's death, he remained active as a carnival operator, initially with a Wheel of Fortune and a toboggan-slide.
In 1907, he exchanged the toboggan for a traveling cinema: The Imperial Bio Grand Cinematograph. With this luxury cinema, he followed in the footsteps of the exhibitors Alberts Frères, Alex Benner, and Hommerson et Fils, who presented exclusive film programs in luxurious cinema tents. Desmet even went so far as to open up his well-equipped caravan to visitors – in exchange for payment, of course, because above all, Desmet was a merchant.
In April 1909, Desmet opened his first stationary cinema, the Cinema Parisien in Rotterdam. In early 1910, his film rental business became his most important activity. At West German film fairs, he bought complete film programs which he then rented out, including the posters, to Dutch cinema owners. Desmet also screened films in his own cinemas. Together with a number of relatives, he operated cinemas in cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, and Bussum.