Obama Gifted With Restored Copy of 'Native Son' During Argentina Visit

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for SXSW

The president received a complete and restored print of the film based on Richard Wright's acclaimed novel, shot in Argentina in the 1950s.

President Barack Obama went home after his Argentina trip with a special gift from the Buenos Aires Film Museum: a restored print of Native Son, the film based on the acclaimed novel by African-American writer Richard Wright, which is an outspoken denunciation of racial discrimination in the U.S.

Directed by French filmmaker Pierre Chenal, the film was written by Wright and shot in Argentina using stock footage of Chicago — where the story is set — and with the writer himself playing lead character Bigger Thomas. The full version of the film premiered in the South American country back in 1951 but was later partially censored for its U.S. release, causing the near absolute disappearance of its complete version, which only survived in a single and fragile 16mm print.

The full version was found and restored by the Library of Congress in collaboration with the Buenos Aires Film Museum and film historian Fernando Martin Pena. The museum was in charge of prepping and delivering a new print as a gift to Obama at the time of his two-day visit to Argentina.  

“Rescuing, preserving and restoring films does not enjoy much visibility,” museum director Felix-Didier told Los Andes newspaper. "This was a privileged opportunity to learn more about this process in which research plays a key role. In this case, Fernando Martín Pena was largely responsible for the film’s recovery and for making agreements with the U.S. Library of Congress, the Film Noir Foundation and other institutions that made this restoration possible,” said Felix-Didier, who is currently promoting the establishment of a long-postponed Argentine Cinematheque, enabled by a law passed in 1999.

Argentina has proven to be an archeological hotbed for long-lost films: an almost complete 16mm version of Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis — a miracle find that added 25 minutes to the previously known version — was discovered by Pena and Felix-Didier in 2008 in Buenos Aires. The print was later restored by the Murnau Foundation, and premiered at the Brandenburg Gate during the 60th edition of the Berlinale. Pena, currently the director of the Mar del Plata Film Festival, also discovered a full version of Buster Keaton's 1922 short The Blacksmith in 2013. 

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