In Memoriam: Kemp R. Niver, ASC

American Cinematographer, December 1996 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Kemp R. Niver, ASC


Kemp R. Niver, ASC, award-winning film technician, documentary producer, historian and teacher, died October 15 at the Country Villa Nursing Center in Los Angeles. He would have been 85 on October 17. Niver was a man of many accomplishments, but the one for which he is most noted is the restoration to film of the Library of Congress paper print collection. He accomplished this feat using his own Renovare process. (Renovare is Latin, meaning "make new again.")

"My interest in the motion picture field is primarily in the collection and restoration of pre-World War I films," Niver wrote in 1958 upon his acceptance into the ASC. "I was fortunate to be allowed to work out the photographic problems for the Library of Congress in connection with a project sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that had to do with the old bromide paper films that were made from master negatives prior to the advent of the Motion Picture Copyright Law."

Bromide paper copies possessing the same width and length as original film negatives were the only way film producers could copyright their movies (as strips of individual photographs) in the cinema's early years. In the late 1930s barrels of the battered paper rolls were discovered in the basement of the Library of Congress. In 1950 Niver took on the job of assembling and restoring the prints to film. As there were no standards for film widths or sprocket perforations on the early films, Niver invented his "figment" printer to accommodate any size of film.

The revived collection consists of over 300 films dating from 1889 to 1900, and over 3,000 films from 1900 to 1915, which include most of the films made by the following companies: Biograph, New York Motion Picture Co. in California, Méliès, Kessel & Baumann, Lubin, Edison, and many others. …

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